Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 149

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A pair of European Bee-eaters, Merops apiaster.

Before a bee-eater shares his catch with his mate,
he woos her by conspicuously preparing his offering —
tossing around a may bug before knocking it out.

Image: Jözsef L. Szentpéteri/National Geographic online [larger view].


People Hurting Birds

One of Australia’s rarest and fastest birds, the swift parrot, seems to be plummeting in number, and logging has been blamed. Sightings of the flashy red and green parrot have declined sharply in its winter home of flowering eucalypt woodlands in Victoria and NSW, surveys show. Surveys by 400 volunteers found that instead of improving, the number of sightings declined from 2.5 per survey in 2000 to 0.5 last year. Already listed as endangered with fewer than 1000 breeding pairs in 2003, the swift parrot might be close to critically endangered, said Chris Tzaros, conservation manager of the non-government organisation Birds Australia.

“Morons of the Year” Award: The 2008 Morons of the Year Prize has been awarded to Cypriot poachers who, in their infinite stupidity, decided to take revenge upon the government of Cyprus for arresting bird poachers by .. what else? .. poisoning hundreds of birds. As if that act wasn’t cruel enough, the knee-jerk poachers, who have never been known for their thinking abilities, killed hundreds captive chukar partridges that, ironically, were bred so these gun-toting idiots could shoot them during Cyprus’s so-called hunting season that opens next week.

Speaking of morons, there are plenty of senselessly cruel American morons, too. For example, an Oklahoma City man was recently charged with killing 187 baby birds at a boat dock at Lake Hefner. Gregory Owen is charged with a misdemeanor count of taking the nest of a cliff swallow. The cliff swallow is protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Federal prosecutors say Owen faces up to six months in prison and a $15,000 fine if convicted — but how much do you want to bet that this cretin will not have to pay the maximum penalty?

People Helping Birds

A new United Nations-backed agreement that aims to protect migratory birds of prey in Africa and Eurasia has been signed in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates by 28 countries and will enter into force at the end of the week. The new agreement area stretches across more than 130 countries from the African, Afrotropical, Palaearctic and Indo-Malayan realms and protects more than 70 species of migratory birds of prey including Falconiformes, ospreys, eagles and owls. More than 50 per cent of migratory birds of prey have poor conservation status as a result of habitat loss due to agriculture, forestry, industry and fisheries, collisions with power lines, hunting and trapping for falconry, according to a UNEP press release issued recently.

The Palau Conservation Society (PCS, BirdLife in Palau) has recently published the book Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Palau. The Republic of Palau is a small island nation in the tropical western Pacific, and the westernmost island group in the sub-region known as Micronesia. “The eight IBAs identified in the new book cover about 47% of Palau’s total land area. Two of these sites, the remote southwest islands of Fana and Helen, are significant for their congregations of seabirds, especially Great Crested Terns, Sterna bergii and Black Noddies, Anous minutus“, said Dr Elizabeth Matthews, PCS Chief Program Officer.

Rare Birds News

Endangered scarlet macaws born in captivity are reproducing in the wild for the first time on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. The ZooAve Center for the Rescue of Endangered Species has released 100 of the birds into the wild in the last decade. But biologists didn’t spot offspring until last year, said biologist Laura Fournier. Since then, they have recorded 22 chicks born in the wild, and four more scarlet macaw couples have laid eggs, Fournier said.

Under the guidance of Dr. Stewart Metz, President and Director of the Indonesian Parrot Project, volunteers of the USA-based Indonesian Parrot Project teamed up with Konservasi Kakatua Indonesia to send an expedition to the Masalembu Archipelago in June and July of 2008 to search for one of the world’s rarest birds, the Masakambing (Abbott’s) yellow-crested cockatoo, Cacatua sulphurea abbotti.

Scientist have rediscovered the endangered Wetar Ground-dove, Gallicolumba hoedtii, one of the world’s least known birds, 100 years after it was last seen on the remote Indonesian island of Wetar, reports Columbidae Conservation, a UK-based conservation group. “Wetar Island is amazing,” said team leader Colin Trainor. “It has an incredible abundance of pigeons and parrots, and bird life in general. For the Wetar Ground-dove it seems very likely that Wetar is the species stronghold.” This story includes a satellite map and the first photographs ever taken of a live Wetar Ground-dove.

A kakapo, a member of one of the rarest bird species on Earth, is to be released into the wild after being treated for lead poisoning at a New Zealand zoo. The bird, named Lee, spent two months in the New Zealand Center for Conservation Medicine at the Auckland Zoo, Stuff.com reported. Veterinarians said at first they were unsure if the bird would survive because he was so underweight.

The haunting sound of the kokako could be heard again in the South Island of New Zealand after almost 50 years silence. Eight birds from the North Island have been shifted south to the sanctuary of Secretary Island in Fiordland and more are to follow. The South Island kokako are thought to be extinct but its North Island cousin has been managed from the brink of extinction. The kokako is long on tail and short on wings which is why it struggled so hard against introduced rats, stoats and possums and, in the case of the South Island kokako, they lost.

Avian Zoonotics and Diseases News

Avian Adenovirus Group 1 has been detected in breeder chicks aged 3-7 days, causing inclusion body hepatitis in poultry. The virus, which reportedly cannot be transmitted to humans, has been found in chicken farms in Thailand’s central, western and eastern regions, by a team of Kasetsart University’s veterinary diagnostic unit. Besides young chickens, the virus, which broke out at 6 chicken farms in the 3 regions earlier this year, has now been contained, says Kasetsary University team leader Taweesak Songserm. He added that it can also be found in pigeons, geese, turkeys and partridges.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in domestic birds in Bangladesh.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 26 October 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].

When I was in graduate school, one of my labmates studied the long-distance migrant, the bar-tailed godwit. According to a story on National Public Radio, a individual of this species of shore bird set a new standard for bird migration. A team of scientists recently tracked a godwit as it flew from Alaska to New Zealand — by flying a distance of almost 7,200 miles — for nine days without a rest. Biologist Robert Gill, who led the study, is interviewed by NPR correspondent, Melissa Block. [3:52].

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. This report discusses the new National Geographic field guides to both Eastern and Western birds.

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

Plumage color is a topic that I’ve written about quite a few times (and which I am writing more articles about now). Feather colors grab our attention like few other qualities of birds. For most birds, colors are useful in teasing out their identification. Some species, of course, are highly sought after because their colors are so beautiful. But feather color is worth understanding for its own sake. What is its nature? Where does it come from? Is it a property of the light that illuminates the birds, or does it reside in the feathers themselves?

Bird lovers are thrilled about the sighting of a rare feathered species that apparently took a wrong turn somewhere in Asia and landed near Natural Bridges State Beach. A “drab, brown little bird,” the dusky warbler, arrived on “the Siberian Express” — an aerial pathway that is rewarding bird watchers all over California this season by ushering in a variety of species that lost their bearings while migrating from Siberia to India or Southeast Asia. “You just have to marvel at the fact that it ended up here in California,” said Matthew Dodder, who drove from Palo Alto with his birding class. “It’s very, very rare.” The dusky warbler was discovered last week at Antonelli Pond by birder Oscar Johnson and word quickly spread through Internet bird sites, e-mails and 24-hour hotlines dedicated to giving bird enthusiasts the latest news on their feathered friends.

How good are you at identifying birds? Whether you are a pro or new at the birding game, you will find plenty to look at if you check out the daily mystery birds ID quiz.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to 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 gladio
    October 27, 2008

    What a great pic! Absolutely spectacular.

    Regarding morons, it is some comfort to think that at least the american counterpart is not going to get out of it scot free.

  2. #2 "GrrlScientist"
    October 27, 2008

    yes, one can always hope this is the case. we shall see ..

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