Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 162

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Chatham Island (Mollymawk) Albatross, Thalassarche cauta eremita.

With 18 out of 22 albatross species threatened with extinction,
the FAO should be congratulated on establishing a gold standard
for reducing seabird bycatch — a major conservation step forward.

Image: Alan Tate [larger view].


Birds in Science

Some of the world’s leading paleontologists are attempting to recreate a dinosaur — or something a lot like a dinosaur — by starting with a chicken embryo and working backward to engineer a “chickenosaurus” or “dinochicken,” said project leader Jack Horner. Such “reverse evolution” has been successfully performed in mice and flies, but those studies focused on re-introducing just a few bygone traits. The dinochicken project instead has the goal of bringing back multiple dinosaur characteristics, such as a tail, teeth and forearms, by changing the levels of regulatory proteins that have evolved to suppress these characteristics in birds. “Birds are dinosaurs, so technically we’re making a dinosaur out of a dinosaur,” said Horner, who is a professor of paleontology at Montana State University and curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies. When and if the dinochicken is created, Horner looks forward to bringing it out on a leash during lectures. “We’re always looking for novel ways to get the general public interested in science,” he said, “and you have to admit, it would be better than a slide show for demonstrating evolution.”

Climate change is already having an impact on European bird species, according to British scientists. Details of the study by an international team of researchers have been published in the Open Access scientific journal, PloS ONE. Some birds are expected to do well as temperatures rise, but these are in the minority, the researchers write. “Overall, the trend is towards net loss,” said a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which contributed to the study. [Original research article: An Indicator of the Impact of Climatic Change on European Bird Populations]

People Helping Birds

Freedom takes some getting used to. Or at least it did for four California condors hatched and raised in captivity and set loose in the wild Saturday in an event that drew 200 spectators. The endangered birds were set free from a chain-link release pen at the edge of a sandstone escarpment just south of the Utah border in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. Once the gate of the pen was opened, the two 2-year-old and two 3-year-old birds looked out on the world wary of launching into the wild blue yonder, even as they were taunted by ravens and encouraged by other condors outside the pen. “Sometimes they fly right out and sometimes it takes days for them to leave the pen,” said Eddie Feltes, the project manager for the site and a biologist with the Peregrine Fund.

Wildlife experts say they’re cautiously optimistic that an eagle that crashed through the windshield of a tractor-trailer on a Nevada highway can be released back into the wild in two or three months. The 14-pound golden eagle with a 7-foot wing span is ” doing well” at the Northeastern Nevada Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Spring Creek, its director, Jo Dean, said. But it’s unclear how the female bird will respond after suffering a slight bone fracture on part of its wing, she said. Most raptors with broken wings do not sufficiently heal to allow their return to the wild, but that’s because their fractures are usually much more severe, she said. “We set it as best we could and wrapped it,” Dean said. “We’re all cautiously optimistic, but you never know with birds. “But she’s strong. Eagles are phenomenally tough. I have seen raptors with similar injuries released back into the wild,” she said.

As Audubon Minnesota’s newest recruit to the Audubon Society’s “Lights Out” campaign, HealthPartners is ready to darken its building from midnight to dawn during spring and fall migrations to avoid drawing birds that might fly into windows and die. “It’s a great opportunity to help the birds and to help energy consumption for HealthPartners,” Younghans said. She estimates that the company will significantly reduce light use per week per floor. “It’s going to be huge.”

Up until now, the FAO’s seabird action plan has only addressed longline fisheries, in which seabirds get caught and drowned while trying to snatch bait from hooks on lines targeting tuna, swordfish, toothfish and other high value stocks. However, a new set of guidelines extend the FAO’s scope to address what countries can and should do to reduce bycatch of seabirds in trawling gear and gill-nets. The scope is also extended from fishing nations to the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) which govern fisheries on the high seas. New standards are set for research and data collection, education, and observer programs. “With 18 out of 22 albatross species threatened with extinction, and countless other seabird species snared annually in a cat’s cradle of longlines, trawls and gill-nets, the FAO is to be congratulated on this major step forward”, commented Dr Ben Sullivan, Coordinator of BirdLife International’s Global Seabird Program (see featured image, top).

Avian Zoonotics News

Google may be faster at predicting flu outbreaks than state and federal health agencies. But is it accurate? Last week, the state Department of Public Health announced flu activity was on the rise statewide in Connecticut, upgrading the state’s flu classification from regional to widespread. But the Google Flu Trends system shows a decrease in Connecticut flu activity since a peak during the week of 8 February. Google says its site, which measures Google searches containing words such as “flu” or “influenza,” can predict flu activity up to two weeks in advance of traditional systems, like the federal Centers for Disease Control. Google uses IP address information from its server log to make a best guess about where queries originated, according to the site. An early version, tested during the 2007-08 flu season, accurately estimated flu activity for nine surveillance regions in the country, one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been detected in domestic poultry in Hong Kong and in humans in Egypt and (of course) Indonesia.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 08 March 2009. 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]. If you would like to $upport BirdNote, I encourage you to purchase one of their wonderful “birdy” items from their online BirdNote Store.

The residents of Rossmoor, an upscale retirement community east of San Francisco, have for years tried peaceful means to make their pesky acorn woodpeckers go away. But now, it’s war. The woodpeckers are 8-inch birds with red-topped heads and are very industrious — and persistent — especially when it comes to storing their acorns for the winter. Duke Robinson says he watched swarms of the birds fill up the rain gutters on his condo. “You know, we would sit at the breakfast table here, and through our window, they were like dive bombers,” he says. “Then they’d dive down … fly up and drop an acorn in and shewwoooooo.” [3:50].

Bird Publications News

Would you like an avian anatomy book — free? If so, you can download one, two or all three books as PDFs. 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. [NOTE: There might be a waiting period between downloads]

The Anatomical Atlas of Gallus by Mikio Yasuda is the English edition of the Japanese book published by the University of Tokyo in 2002. This download was scanned from a library book and has been reduced to 80% of its full size so two scanned pages will appear per standard computer screen [228 scanned pages (446 pages total), 46 MB; PDF link through RapidShare].

A Colour Atlas of Avian Anatomy by J. McLelland with a forward by Julian Baumel and published in English by Wolfe Publishing (Aylesbury, England) in 1990 [127 pages, 28 MB; PDF link through RapidShare]. This download consists of PDF sections that can be read in their entirety only if you page through the book page-by-page using the toolbar.

Julian Baumel’s celebrated Handbook of Avian Anatomy: Nomina Anatomica Avium, 2nd Edition, published in 1993 by the Nuttal Ornithological Club. This book is the definitive avian anatomy book that scientific papers cite, compare and contrast their findings to, so even if you don’t use this as your primary anatomy book, you will need this to publish your findings, and to properly understand other scientists’ papers. [409 scanned pages (779 pages total), 49 MB; PDF link through RapidShare].

While you are at RapidShare, you can also pick up a free book about the Endemic Birds of Sri Lanka [PDF link through RapidShare].

Here’s the latest edition of Ian Paulsen’s Birdbooker Report for you to enjoy. While this report does list books for sale from a variety of genres, it got its start by listing newly published bird books, as its name implies.

The Birding Community E-bulletin is being distributed through the generous support of Steiner Binoculars as a public service to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats. You can access an archive of past E-bulletins as well as the current issue for free.

If you are interested to either read about Neotropical birds or to write species accounts about them as a public service, then Cornell’s Neotropical Birds Online is looking for you. They publish species accounts using a blog-type format which allows authors to revise their accounts to keep pace with new research. This format also allows us to incorporate other media into the species accounts (photography, video and sound files), and to link to related resources elsewhere on the web. Full credit is given to the author, or collaborating team of authors, for each species account. This is a collaborative project: Neotropical Birds Online not only is for researchers, birders, and managers who are interested in birds of the neotropics, but it also will be created and maintained by that community of specialists. Learn more about the specific services and information that they are seeking.

Bird Identification Quizzes

If you are interested to participate in a daily online discussion of bird identification, please go to the Mystery Birds archive. It is updated daily, and you are given 48 hours to identify each bird before its identification and an analysis is published. You are also invited to check out the previous Mystery Birds to improve your birding skills, many of which have an accompanying analysis, written by Rick Wright, for identifying that particular species.

Volunteer Bird Projects

The North American Bird Phenology Program is working to understand the scale of global climate change and how it is affecting birds across North America. This is the oldest and longest running bird monitoring program in the United States, currently housing six million records dating back to the early 1880’s. The program, started in 1880 by Wells W. Cooke, collected bird observations by over 3,000 citizen scientists and came to an end in 1970, until the program was revived last year. The records document bird migration arrival and departure dates from around North America; an unparalleled and untapped resource, but one which BPP needs your help to modernize. The BPP online data entry system is seeking volunteers from around the world to begin transcribing historical bird arrival records into the BPP online database. If you want to help, please register here.

Miscellaneous Bird News

After almost five weeks in Costa Rica the Hilton Pond naturalists have just returned from their annual Operation RubyThroat hummingbird banding expeditions and have lots to report. An account of the great field work done by their Week One group participants — the Alpha Niners — is the subject of the latest installment of “This Week at Hilton Pond.” They also banded a few birds at Hilton Pond just before they flew south, so there’s a list of them at the end of the Costa Rica report. Please note the Hilton Pond naturalists have already set dates for next year’s trips and will be taking enrollments very soon. They’re excited their 2010 hummingbird banding expeditions will include two to Costa Rica and — for the first time — one each to Guatemala and Belize!

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The Fine Print: Thanks to TravelGirl, 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 Craig Nash
    June 4, 2009

    Seeing your post here is image I took of Chatham Island Albatross
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/peregrinebirdphoto/3311579047/in/set-72157614382945371/

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