Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 143

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ABSTRACT: Chattering Lory, sometimes known as the Scarlet Lory, Lorius garrulus.

Image: John Del Rio [larger view].


Birds in Science News

The Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo, Chalcites basalis, specializes in laying a single egg in the nests of fairy-wrens, but sometimes parasitizes nests of other species such as thornbills or robins. The cuckoo chick has a shorter incubation period than the hosts’ chicks, and after the cuckoo chick hatches, it pushes the host’s eggs out of the nest and imitates the begging calls of the host’s offspring — without having ever heard their begging calls! — thereby deceiving the parent birds into feeding and caring for the interloper. How does the cuckoo chick know what its hosts’ chicks sounds like?

For more than 30 years, a mysterious disease, known as proventricular dilatation disease (PDD), has sent chills of terror down the spines of bird lovers because it has been killing captive parrots. In fact, the Little Blue (Spix’s) Macaw, Cyanopsitta spixii, one of the world’s rarest and most endangered bird species, may become extinct due to PDD. But fortunately for this species, and all other birds, it appears that the causative agent of PDD has finally been identified: a virus that is new to science.

People Hurting Birds News

In a twist to the predator-prey debate of the West, where hunters accuse wolves of eating too many elk and Pacific Coast states bemoan federally protected sea lions eating endangered salmon, a fresh menace has emerged: the American white pelican, which anglers say gobbles hatchery-raised rainbow trout and dwindling native Yellowstone cutthroat. “They’re just like a gang of horse thieves,” whined retired eastern Idaho rancher Don Allen, who launches his 15 ½-foot fishing boat from Henry, where a shuttered 100-year-old store is the sole reminder of the area’s once-famous cattle roundups. “They get a group of them together, circle an area, then go to work,” Allen said of the pelicans. GrrlScientist comment: This story should win the “people being selfish jackasses as well as ignoramuses about birds and about nature in general” story.

A study of trawl fishing in South Africa suggests that around 18,000 seabirds may be killed annually in this fishery, highlighting trawl fisheries as a major threat to seabirds, especially several species of albatross already facing a risk of extinction. Published in the journal Animal Conservation, the study was based on scientists monitoring catches on 14 different vessels, operating in the Benguela Current, off South Africa; one of the main hotspots for seabirds in the Southern Hemisphere. The vessels were trawling for hake, and the majority of bird deaths were a result of collisions with wires — known as warp lines — leading from the stern of the vessels. “We believe the seabird deaths the scientists recorded might be just the tip of the iceberg”, said John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Program. “It suggests that around 18,000 seabirds may be killed annually in this fishery alone,” he added.

Dustin McNutt, 18, an Arvada High School graduate in Colorado, says he accidentally ran over a raven or a crow in June. But a witness says it was intentional. McNutt turned in to an apartment complex in the 5800 block of Pierce Street and ran over the bird, which was in or near the gutter. Erin Dawe, strolling on the sidewalk with her two young children, said she was just feet from the bird when McNutt’s car ran over it. “They intentionally swerved . . . to hit the bird,” she said. GrrlScientist comment: If the genius killed a bird, the least he can do is know which species it was. What an idiot.

An oil company has pleaded guilty to failing to protect migratory birds from oil pits near wells in eastern Montana. Enerplus Resources, based in Denver and Calgary, pleaded guilty last Thursday to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. U.S. Magistrate Carolyn Ostby fined Enerplus US $10,000.

People Helping Birds News

WildSounds, the leading international wildlife book and sound guide supplier, has become the latest Species Champion to support the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Program, it was announced today by Martin Davies and Tim Appleton MBE, co-organisers of The British Birdwatching Fair. Furthering their long term commitment to environmental causes, WildSounds has now stepped forward to ‘champion’ Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Eurynorhynchus pygmeus. “We are privileged to become a BirdLife Species Champion and help bring attention to the plight of Spoon-billed Sandpiper”, said Duncan Macdonald, Managing Director of WildSounds.

Bird Watching News

Shorebird migration is under way in the United States. In the past week, Maine birders have found greater yellowlegs, lesser yellowlegs, short-billed dowitchers, semipalmated sandpipers and white-rumped sandpipers. Most of these species nest in the Arctic. The window of opportunity for nesting in the Arctic is short, so it is not surprising that these birds have departed the high latitudes already. Here’s another story from Martha’s Vineyard about autumn birding.

The latest American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) Check-list Supplement, with changes in taxonomy and classification for a number of Neotropical species is now available [free PDF].

The Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Emirates Bird Records Committee (EBRC) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will give EAD access to nearly a quarter of a million reports of wild birds seen in the United Arab Emirates since the late 1960s. “Birds Conservation has always been based on voluntary efforts and contributions from bird lovers and enthusiasts and represents a major pillar of BirdLife International’s work”, said Ibrahim Al-Khader, Head of BirdLife Middle East. “This news will form an important step towards the establishment of a national monitoring scheme that is hoped to be updated regularly. It will help build local capacity through mobilizing interested people to contribute their records”.

Parrot News

The World Parrot Trust, an organization dedicated to protecting parrots in the wild, has an online newsletter, Flock Talk, that you can read for free. [Flock Talk, Issue 11].

A Marigot farmer on the Caribbean island of Dominica has begun legal proceedings against the Roosevelt Skerrit Government for damaged caused to his orange plantation by parrots. “So what I did was to write to the Minister of Agriculture, Attorney General and even the Prime Minister and none of them replied. The kind of damage was estimated at over $172,000,” the farmer said. GrrlScientist comment: Of course the parrots are eating his fruits because humans planted these tasty food items in the parrots’ former home. This is another story that should win the “people being selfish jackasses as well as ignoramuses about birds and about nature in general” award.

Avian Diseases and Zoonotics News

Local biologists are bracing for an outbreak of avian botulism, a paralytic disease that kills about 10,000 Great Lakes shorebirds every summer. The conditions are right. Warm temperatures, changing lake levels and decaying vegetation stir up common bacterial spores. Toxins form, and dead fish wash up on the shore. “It hits pretty hard,” said Nathan Ramsay, a wildlife disease technician at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin. “And it’s starting again.”

For the study, John Brundage, a medical microbiologist at the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, and his team sifted through first-hand accounts, medical records, and infection patterns from 1918 and 1919. They concluded that although a nasty strain of flu virus swept around the world, bacterial pneumonia that came on the heels of mostly mild cases of flu killed the majority of the 20 to 100 million victims of the so-called Spanish flu. “We agree completely that bacterial pneumonia played a major role in the mortality of the 1918 pandemic,” New Scientist quoted Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, Maryland, as saying.

H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in domestic birds in Vietnam and in humans in Indonesia.

West Nile Virus has been identified in wild birds in Scotts Valley, California.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 10 August 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].

Standing in a forest in Alaska, biologist Michael Andersen finds himself surrounded by half a million fork-tailed storm petrels flying through the air. “There’s so many of these birds that they can’t help flying into the microphone or the tripod,” he says. “Or even one time, a bird flew right into my head.” Once a year every summer, an invasion overwhelms the tiny island of Saint Lazaria off Alaska’s southwest coast. Swarms of seabirds descend to breed. Andersen, from the University of Kansas, recorded the calls of two kinds of storm petrels: the Leach’s storm petrel and the fork-tailed petrel. [NPR streaming story].

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.

Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology’s publication, Living Bird has won the People’s Choice “Best Magazine Site” award for 2008. It is a beautiful site and the articles are (mostly) free.

Miscellaneous Bird News

Hummingbirds are amazing creatures that hover, feed on flower nectar, and — despite their small size — can migrate long distances each fall and spring. Based on phone calls, e-mails, and questions that naturalists get at public presentations, hummers also are often misunderstood — hence the effort that the naturalistrs from Hilton Pond invested in this issue of This Week at Hilton Pond to dispel the “Top Ten” Hummingbird Myths (plus two). For a photo essay about strange misconceptions some people have about hummingbirds, please visit their current double installment. As always they include a tally of birds banded and recaptured during the period — they caught a bunch of new (and old) ruby-throats — and a note about a recent visit to Hilton Pond by students from York Technical College.

Incidentally, there is a movement afoot to stop bird porn. Watching birds engage in sexual behaviors is especially damaging to this nation’s youth, who are already hormone-driven sex-machines. After reading the comments, it’s no wonder that this nation got the president we deserve. [more bird humor]. Does anyone know who is behind this?

A curious incident happened in Columbus Park, a small oasis tucked behind the State Supreme Court complex on Centre Street, on the border of Chinatown in NYC: a pigeon-napping. I wonder what the pigeon-napped was doing to the poor bird that he grabbed? Apparently, it is illegal to poach pigeons in NYC.

Farmer Jim Lott needs to get rid of the starlings and sparrows feasting on the ripe fruit in his blueberry patch, and a grinning scarecrow wearing grandpa’s old overalls just doesn’t cut it anymore. He’s one of 17 farmers nationwide who have signed up for a new program that allows the use of raptors to control pesky birds that damage or forage on crops. “We never expected a whole lot of people to get them, but it did make sense to allow the use of raptors to control problem flocks of birds, agricultural pests, because in many ways, that’s probably more environmentally sound than other methods people might use,” said George Allen, Fish and Wildlife’s branch chief of permits and regulations in Arlington, Va. GrrlScientist comment: It’s too bad that farmers killed most eagles, hawks, falcons and owls a hundred or so years ago because those raptors ate their damned chickens! Now they realize — belatedly — that those raptors actually ate more than just chickens.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Bill, Ian, 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!

Comments

  1. #1 Diane Probst
    August 11, 2008

    Please help us get the word out for a great event helping hummingbirds. View at http://www.rockporthummingbird.com.

  2. #2 sara
    August 11, 2008

    The AOU Meeting was this week. There was an entire symposium entitled “Avian CSI.” The chairperson, Dr. Pepper Trail of FWS Forensics Laboratory (http://www.lab.fws.gov/index.php), told that companies often fail to seal their pits. Nevertheless, when I saw the news, I was surprised to observe an example already.

  3. #3 "GrrlScientist"
    August 11, 2008

    diane; that picture of the hummingbird sitting on the hand is SO CUTE!! i’d love to write a story about that bird, complete with images.

    sara; i’ll do you one better and add the forensics lab to my “web library” blogroll. that would be a fascinating place to work!

  4. #4 EyeNoU
    August 12, 2008

    While vacationing at Montego Bay, Jamaica, we took a side trip to a place called Rocklands Bird Sanctuary. You could feed hummingbirds by hand with a small bottle of sugar water, and they would land on your finger. Unfortunately, all my photos of our visit were accidentally deleted.

  5. #5 Phil Hotlen
    August 14, 2008

    The big photo of the Scarlet/Chattering Lory reminds me of my R&R to Hong Kong in February,1969. I had a bad back, so I spent too much of my time in the hotel’s cocktail lounge. To make a long story short, there was a red lory there who loved feeding on the citrus slice that came with my drink. So I had fun feeding it, now & then – but it also liked to nip at my fingers. And its bill was sharp!

  6. #6 Hugh
    August 15, 2008

    Hi, thanks for noting the design award at Living Bird magazine. (I’m a science writer there.)

    You mentioned last week’s AOU meeting – did you know that Cornell was there, blogging the meeting as it happened? Read posts at the URL above (also on display: bird news from this week’s Behavioral Ecology meetings).