Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 141

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A Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris, gathers cattail material
for its nest along the shore of Lost Lake in North Central Washington
just 10 miles south of the Canadian Border.

Image: Jeff Larsen, Writer/Photographer [larger view].
View more images by this photographer.


Birds in Science News

Now here’s a fascinating research paper that I’ve been trying to get my hands on: The chicks of a species of Australian cuckoo can adjust their call in order to fool other species into rearing them, despite never having heard the begging call! Like their European counterparts, Australian cuckoos are well known for laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. Once the chicks hatch, they ‘kick’ out the host’s eggs and set about convincing their foster parents to feed them by imitating the calls of the host’s offspring.

Birds are highly visual animals, like humans and other apes, so their plumage color evolves because it serves as a signal to other birds, especially when choosing a mate. Plumage color and ornamentation also correspond to the birds’ mating system: long-lived monogamous birds that mate for life are often sexually monochromatic, while polygynous birds where the males do not assist in parental care are very strongly dichromatic. So, based on that information, what would you predict for the reverse situation where the females of the species are brilliantly colored while the males are cryptically colored? This is just the situation found in Australian red-sided eclectus parrots, Eclectus roratus macgillivrayi.

People Hurting Birds

Prosecutors in the Philippines have been told to file charges against a farmer for killing and eating one of the world’s rarest eagles. The man faces up to 12 years in jail if he is found guilty of shooting the Philippine eagle earlier this month. The bird is among the largest and most powerful eagles on Earth but it is also critically endangered. Conservationists believe there are fewer than 250 adult birds left in the wild. GrrlScientist comment: I don’t know if I should be pleased or saddened to be reminded that selfish jackasses are not limited to people living in the United States.

The people of the Andean mountain range have long seen the condor as more than just a big bird. With a wingspan stretching up to 10 feet and a cruising altitude higher than 16,000 feet above sea level, this majestic creature was considered a supernatural being, a source of national pride and even an immortal divinity. Today, however, the Andean condor is in danger of becoming nothing more than a myth. Expanding human development in the Andes Mountains, which stretch down the length of South America, has upset the delicate balance of food that the condor depends on to survive, and the consequences have been drastic.

Hundreds of baby penguins swept from the icy shores of Antarcti­ca and Patagonia are washing up dead on Rio de Janeiro’s tropical beaches, rescuers and penguin experts said. The news came only weeks after a report claimed penguin populations worldwide are being devastated, likely due to pollu­tion and other human activities.

England’s biggest colony of puffins has seen the birds’ numbers fall by a third in just five years, a survey shows. Experts had expected to see a slight increase in the population on the Farne Islands, owned by the National Trust. The Trust says the size of the decline is unprecedented, adding that it will carry out another survey in 2008 in order to monitor the situation. One possible explanation is that many of the birds are dying from starvation during the eight months they spend at sea. Story includes video.

Wales’ wild bird population has plummeted by almost 50% since the Sixties, an alarming report reveals. A study of the nation’s environment found a marked decline in the bird species that inhabit farmland and woodland. Sparrows, willow warblers, sky larks curlews and lapwings – even the once-common starling – feature on the experts’ danger list. The Welsh Assembly Government report, which has compiled data on bird populations over the past 40 years, warned that there appeared to be “no sign of recovery for those groups with long-term declines”.

The number of reported crimes against wild birds in Wales has reduced slightly — but the figure is still too high, an RSPB report says. Its investigations unit received reports of 128 incidents of wild bird crime in Wales in 2007, 15 fewer than in 2006, which had seen 143 crimes. But it was still “significantly higher” than in 2005, which had 91 reported crimes, the organisation said.

Rare Bird News

The Houston Zoo in Houston, Texas, successfully hatched another endangered St. Vincent Amazon parrot, Amazona guildingii, on 28 May 2008. The young parrot was the third of this species to hatch at the Houston Zoo, which is the only zoo in the United States to successfully breed this species in captivity. The chick was named Vincent after the father of the first St. Vincent amazon parrot that was hatched at the Houston Zoo on 25 April 1972. Story includes lots of images and a video of the chick being hand-fed.

Avian Disease and Zoonotics News

Human activity is probably not to blame for the mysterious deaths of hundreds of double-crested cormorants, a few dozen American white pelicans and a few other water birds that were discovered at two lakes in Minnesota, a leading state expert said. The discoveries were made last week by state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff members who were banding pelicans at Minnesota Lake in Faribault County, in southern Minnesota, and Pigeon Lake in Meeker County, west of the Twin Cities.

The mysterious deaths of 24 ducks and ducklings found floating in the Washington DC Capitol Reflecting Pool recently has been traced to avian botulism, a disease caused by bacteria in hot water that is not contagious to humans, a spokesman for the National Park Service said. “Human beings are totally safe,” said the spokesman, Bill Line. “There is no risk of passing avian botulism on to humans.” He said that the disease was a “naturally recurring event” in hot summer weather and that it is “happening right now” to young and susceptible waterfowl in many parts of the United States.

A bird found in Plainview, NY has tested positive for West Nile virus, the first Nassau case this season, health officials said. The grackle was collected on July 8, the same day Suffolk health officials found a crow in Commack with West Nile virus. Nassau health officials reported the virus was first identified in a sample from a mosquito pool July 2 in Bethpage. That species of mosquito primarily bites birds, health officials said.

H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in domestic birds in Vietnam and in Nigeria and in humans in China — this is an example of a rare and worrying case of human-to-human transmission, too.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 27 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].

Carolina wrens — small cinnamon-brown birds that choose to live around outbuildings — will hide their nests almost anywhere: a discarded boot, a bucket turned on its side. With a little innovation, it is possible to make a connection with wrens.

Here’s a new podcast on BirdWatch Radio for you to listen to.

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

The recent discovery atop Stratton Mountain of an apparent hybrid of a Bicknell’s thrush and veery, two closely related species in the genus Catharus, has generated some buzz in birding circles. The bird was discovered by field biologists with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) in the course of their long-term research on high-elevation bird populations. Assuming the bird is a hybrid, the question naturally arises as to how these individuals of two ecologically separate species found one another. Bicknell’s thrush is specialized on fir-spruce forests that grow only on mountaintops above 3,000 feet in Vermont. Veery is a species of lowland hardwood forests, primarily second growth and flood plain. Does occupancy of mountaintop forests by a veery signal the upslope creep of deciduous forests due to climate change, as has been shown by recent University of Vermont research?

Meet the Merlins: Spike, the mother, is the feisty one. Thor, the father, is calmer, the main provider. Then there’s Puff, so rambunctious he fell from a tree before he could fly. The family constitutes the first confirmed nesting in Seattle of merlins, a small type of falcon found in Western Washington and British Columbia. The birds are candidates for the state’s endangered-species list, and they have been moving into urban areas more in recent years.

Their connection to a hit 80s television show could make 19 new residents at the Denver Zoo a little more popular. The American flamingo chicks come from the same famous flock seen in the opening credits of “Miami Vice.” Denver zookeepers flew them here from the Miami Metro Zoo while they were still just eggs on June 19. The hatchlings began pecking their way out of their shells just days after arriving in Denver.

Speaking of flamingos, apparently, giving the Chilean flamingos in Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo more plantings appears to have been followed by an outbreak of romance and 10 eggs. Officials at the zoo say the eggs are the first laid by flamingos in the zoo for at least a half century and possibly the first ever. But they recognize there are no chicks yet. “I’m not counting my flamingos until they’re hatched,” Megan Moss, the general curator, said this week.

A parrot from Friskney could become the most famous parrot in the world after joining Facebook. Sarah, a blue and gold macaw, who lives at the National Parrot Sanctuary in the UK has been put on Facebook, an online social networking community, in a bid to make thousands of online friends. Neil Jacklin of the sanctuary said: “Sarah has always been one of the most popular parrots and is well sponsored because she is so friendly.”

The Olympic Games are starting soon in Beijing. People from all over the world will be competing to be the best. However, some of the world’s greatest athletes are birds. Birds can travel faster, higher, deeper and further than any human. Celebrating the amazing achievements of birds, next month BirdLife will be running the BirdLife Games.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Phil, Caren, Mona, Mary, Diane, 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!

Comments

  1. #1 John
    July 28, 2008

    Interesting composition on the photo.

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