Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 163

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Wren (known as the “Winter Wren” in the United States), Troglodytes troglodytes, photographed near the Bridge of Orchy, Scotland.

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


Birds in Science and Technology

What happens when the demand for suitable nesting sites exceeds the availability? The law of demand and supply also applies in nature, and the consequences of enhanced competition for limited nesting sites can have far-reaching effects. Which individuals will prevail? And what happens to the unsuccessful competitors? Hole-nesting birds frequently face a difficult task in finding suitable accommodation: most of the coveted nesting cavities are located in old or dead trees and also, as result of modern forestry, increasingly few and far between. A recent research study has found that increased competition for rare breeding sites causes female blue tits to invest more time in their current brood, to spend more time feeding their offspring and also to produce more male offspring in their clutches.

Analyses of citizen-gathered data from the past 40 years reveal that 58 percent of the 305 widespread bird species wintering in the United States have shifted farther north, some settling across the border into Canada. “Experts predict that global warming will mean dire consequences, even extinction, for many bird species,” warns Audubon President John Flicker.

Here’s a link to the US Air Force Avian Hazard Advisory System, a system that processes NOAA weather data in real time and uses it to provide bird-aircraft strike risk advisories. The website also shows the processed image loop of bird density data (with most of the weather removed). There also is an image gallery for you to look at. In these images, the yellows indicate lower activity, yellow-orange is moderate and dark orange is high activity. The system uses only the first 64 nm miles of radar data for bird detection, hence the “gaps”. Any blue in the image is heavy weather that gets through the weather suppression algorithms. This map is a great reference tool for those planning the next day’s birding activities. [Many thanks to Gary W. Andrews, General Manager of DeTect Inc., who emailed information about this system which his developed and operates for the USAF].

People Hurting Birds

In a special subcategory entitled People Inexplicably Acting Like Total Jackasses, it has been reported that more than 1.1 million songbirds were illegally slaughtered by trappers in Cyprus in the past year. Cyprus lies on a key migratory route and bird trapping has been commonplace for years. Trappers use either fine mist nets or sticks dipped in sticky lime. “The figure is an unacceptable toll which ever way you look at it,” remarked Martin Hellicar, executive manager for Birdlife Cyprus. Many of the dead birds are served up as expensive delicacies in local restaurants, even though trapping and consumption is strictly banned, the group said. GrrlScientist comment: Because of Cypriots’ horrific behavior, I would never, ever consider visiting Cyprus, nor even setting foot on the airport tarmack in the unlikely event that I was stuck on a plane that made a stop-over in that horrible, cruel little country.

Also in the same People Inexplicably Acting Like Total Jackasses subcategory are those disgusting rich women who enjoy strutting around with dead birds nailed onto the toes of their shoes. Apparently, designer Bruno Frisoni, a brainless dolt who works for Roger Vivier, is willing to bet that at least some women are so vain and cruel that they are willing to pay through the nose for the privilege of wearing dead birds on their feet. The Dovima, as the shoe is known, has a rose pink-dyed taxidermy bird perched delicately on each toe. Each dead bird also has a crystal-encrusted head and is further complemented by 24 ct gold-coated mesh, silk, ribbons, and crocodile-skin rosettes. Plus every pair comes with special protective crocodile or snakeskin platforms that attach before you wear them to keep the shoes from ever touching the ground. All for just $43,000 and three months of waiting after you order. Where do you suppose these shoemakers got these dead birds — Cyprus?

A California condor captured because it appeared sickly was found to not only be suffering from lead poisoning but also had been shot, animal experts said recently. Unable to eat on its own, the condor was under intensive care at the Los Angeles Zoo and its prognosis was guarded, said Susie Kasielke, curator of birds.

More than 800 birds have been seized in raid at a rural north Santa Barbara County, California, cockfighting operation. Sheriff’s Deputy John McCarthy says it was a significant breeding business with 15th generation top-line roosters selling on the Internet for $350. Also confiscated were cockfighting videos, magazines, trophies and razor-sharp spurs that are strapped to roosters’ legs for battle.

While conservationists in the Lesser Antilles are active in the protection of marine life, pets and the general environment, there is hardly any attention paid to wild birds. This, however, will soon cease to be the case as the non-profit organization, Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), has initiated preliminary seabird surveys. According to Katharine Lowrie, Field Research Manager Seabird Breeding Atlas, there is no data on how many seabirds in the Lesser Antilles or on which islands they nest. It is also not clear where they feed. “Isn’t that incredible when you think about the millions of people who live, visit and sail through the Lesser Antilles each year, that something as huge as a Pelican or as a spectacular as tropicbird can be missed?” Asked Lowrie.

Robins, great tits and garden warblers had their worst breeding season ever recorded last year as a result of the bad weather, the British Trust for Ornithology said. The three bird species were among 11 of the 25 species monitored by a ringing scheme over the past 25 years which saw their productivity fall significantly below average in 2008. According to the organizer of the Trust’s Constant Effort Sites (CES) ringing scheme, Mark Grantham, last year’s wet and windy summer once again played a large part in reducing the number of chicks birds were able to rear successfully. Only the reed warbler and long-tailed tits managed a slightly better than average breeding season.

Rare Birds News

Primary Industries and Water Minister David Llewellyn has suggested the endangered swift parrot is virtually doomed. Mr Llewellyn told State Parliament recently there were fewer than 1000 breeding pairs left in the wild. “That means they are unlikely to be viable in the long term,” Mr Llewellyn said. It is the first time the Australian State Government has given such a grave outlook on the species’ survival. More than half the breeding population nested in the Wielangta State Forest in the South-East last season, causing logging operations planned for the area to be temporarily suspended by Forestry Tasmania. GrrlScientist comment: fewer than 1000 breeding pairs is still a sufficient population size for long-term survival. There are several bird species that have been brought back from the brink of extinction with a total founder population that was MUCH smaller than that! Methinks the logging industry is influencing Mr Llewellyn to be premturely negative, don’t you?

In the year of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, a paper describing a new bird species in the Solomon Islands has reinforced evidence that white-eyes evolve new species faster than any other known bird family — including Galapagos finches. The new species has been named Vanikoro White-eye, Zosterops gibbsi. The formal description was published by Dr Guy Dutson of Birds Australia (BirdLife in Australia), who led a recent expedition to the island of Vanikoro to gather evidence about the bird. Its scientific name, gibbsi, is in honor of the first person to see the species — David Gibbs. “Genetic research has shown that white-eyes evolve new species faster than any known bird family,” said Guy Dutson. “Islands only 3 km apart in the Solomons have their own white-eye species, and the Solomon Islands alone have 13 species of white-eye.”

Its graceful high-speed swoops are a familiar spectacle in the skies of Britain. But the swift could be wiped out within 20 years if developers continue to destroy its nesting places, according to experts. In the last 15 years the migratory bird’s numbers have plummeted by 40 per cent and it could disappear altogether if measures are not taken to protect those refuges. A Royal Society for the Protection of Birds survey revealed that at least 95 per cent of swifts nest in open eaves, under loose roof tiles and in holes in walls, but due to repairs and modern building techniques these nesting sites are no longer available. Eaves are now sealed or fitted with slatted grilles and tiles are fitted without gaps. Furthermore, “Old warehouses, factories and dockhouses are being turned into flats so all the old nesting places are being sealed up,” said Edward Mayer, founder of Swift Conservation. “And with climate change the concentration is on insulating and sealing buildings. All of this means swifts have nowhere to live and rear and feed their young — so they are disappearing.’

Keepers at a bird sanctuary in West Sussex, UK, hoped that the last remaining female Blue Duck in the country, called Cherry, might mate with either of the drakes, Ben or Jerry. But neither male duck appeared interested in her but they are now inseparable at the Arundel Wetland Center — leaving Cherry to her own devices. “They stay together all the time, parading up and down their enclosure and whistling to each other as a male might do with a female he wants to mate with,” Centre warden Paul Stevens said. “People who visit the centre think they’re a fantastic couple, without really coming around to the idea that they are two males.”

Conservation Minister Tim Groser says the long running campaign to save the endangered kakapo has reached a new milestone with confirmation that the population of threatened birds has broken through the 100 mark. The Department of Conservation’s Kakapo Recovery Team have been closely watching a handful of chicks born in the past few days on Whenua Hou/Codfish Island — the kakapo sanctuary off Stewart Island. All the new chicks have survived their first few critical days, meaning the world’s kakapo headcount is now officially 103 birds — more than double the total number of kakapo alive a little over a decade ago. “This is great news – we’ve still got a long, long road ahead before the kakapo’s future is secure but it’s a huge milestone for one of the country’s favourite birds,” said Mr Groser.

Avian Diseases and Zoonotics News

Kentucky-based Burkmann Feeds announced recently that it is voluntarily recalling Wild Birds Unlimited Wildlife Blend bird food after tests conducted by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Food and Drug Protection Division revealed the presence of salmonella bacteria. Burkmann is recalling 20-pound packages of Wild Birds Unlimited Wildlife Blend bird food sold exclusively at Wild Birds Unlimited Stores. “We are pleased that the testing has enabled us to remove contaminated feed from the market,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Food safety is a number one priority for this department, for both humans and animals.”

Tennessee wildlife officials say dozens of songbirds are dying across the state in a salmonella outbreak and officials are investigating whether it’s related to a national peanut recall. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency biologist Scott Dykes said they’ve found dead birds “especially goldfinches, purple finches and pine siskins” in seven East Tennessee counties and found as many as 30 dead birds in one group.

Here’s a fascinating and educational series of online videos detailing the avian necropsy (“autopsy”) process that veterinarians use to determine the cause of death after a bird dies.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has recently been identified in domestic poultry in Nepal and India, wild birds in Germany and in humans in Egypt and possibly in China.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 15 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. They sent a calendar to me and it’s beautiful (especially the January bird, which is a gorgeous cedar waxwing).

On March 2, All Things Considered aired a story about a California community that was fighting an onslaught of acorn woodpeckers, a protected species that sometimes makes holes — lots of holes — in house siding. In that story, the reporter asserted that the popular cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker, was modeled on the acorn woodpecker. And a listener or two questioned that assertion. To find out the truth, Melissa Block e-mailed Julie Zickefoose, the All Things Considered bird commentator. And Julie got her ID wrong. [mp3 3:56].

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 it’s start by listing newly published bird books, as its name implies.

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 master birder 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

Although it’s sort of slow going — what with all the anecdotes, data, and photos to organize — the naturalists at Hilton Pond just completed a summary report for their second week of Ruby-throated Hummingbird banding studies in Costa Rica. In fact, that’s the topic for their recentinstallment of This Week at Hilton Pond. Their second week in Guanacaste turned out to be very strange weather-wise, but the “Beta Niners” that joined them came through with a record-setting number of hummers captured and banded. You’ll note that in addition to two Costa Rica hummingbird expeditions next year that they’ll also be visiting Guatemala and Belize. Details on the latter two expeditions will be available within a few days.

When Spa Week 2009 (April 13-19) descends on New York City it won’t be the only thing dropping. Midtown’s Shizuka New York Day Spa will be offering up its Geisha Facial — coined the “Bird Poop Facial” — for $50 as part of the bi-annual event designed to bring spa culture to the masses. Normally priced at $180, Shizuka’s exclusive Geisha Facial has received widespread international attention for its unique use of an ancient Japanese ingredient…bird droppings.

A booming population of bald eagles, once nearly extinct in Ohio, has caught the attention of officials at the Cleveland airport. Four birds have been spotted at Cleveland Hopkins Airport 18 times since December, including one juvenile eagle seen flying down the center stripe of one of the runways. Damon Greer of the Ohio Division of Wildlife says the two adult and two juvenile birds don’t appear bothered by incoming and outgoing jets.

A Kingfisher, one of Britain’s most colorful birds, has become the first avian victim of the credit crunch, reports the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Kingfisher SB35872 was fitted with a BTO ring in December 2007, at Higham Marshes in Kent. For the next year it regularly flew through a local factory, using it to roost at night. Conveniently, the factory was open seven days a week, and the factory workers enjoyed the frequent flashes of cobalt blue as the bird flew through on its regular fishing trips. But the credit crunch forced the factory to close for three days every week, and whilst closed recently, SB35872 became trapped inside. The bird was found dead last week when the factory reopened — a sad demise for such a stunning bird.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Linda, Gail, 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 Zuri
    March 16, 2009

    The birds in the Galapagos Islands are really unique and some of them are endemic to this Archipelago. Galapagos is the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else.

  2. #2 Neil
    March 16, 2009

    I have a suggestion for the ‘People Inexplicably Acting Like Total Jackasses’ catergory – British gamekeepers/farmers. In N. Ireland they have started poisoning the recently reintroduced white tailed sea eagles which has throwing the whole project into doubt, in England there are now 0 breeding pairs of Golden eagles now ‘someone’ has killed 1 of the remaining pair and in Scotland a number of radio tagged hen harriers all mysteriously disappeared as they passed over an area of game estates….

  3. #3 Dan
    March 17, 2009

    Thanks for mentioning Cyprus and helping to draw attention to this problem here. But I would say that shunning the problem isn’t the solution. Confronting it, as Hellicar (and the many fine members of BirdLife Cyprus) are trying to do, is the only solution that will change the abysmally low enforcement of relevant laws. And we (BirdLife Cyprus) are trying!

  4. #4 Julie Zickefoose
    March 17, 2009

    Thanks for the shout-out. I am now besieged by people wanting to hear my Woody Woodpecker laugh.

  5. #5 "GrrlScientist"
    March 17, 2009

    neil — send me the link! i’ve apparently been unable to find a recent story myself, although i’ve linked to this issue as it has developed in the past, but i’d sure like to link to a recent (within the last week) news story about this.

    dan — because i would be labeled an “ugly american” for imposing my values another country, i’d prefer to use another method to make the cypriots understand the gravity of their selfish and childish behaviors: keeping myself and any money i might spend far far away from cyprus and its citizens.

    julie — when the mp3 recording of your woody woodpecker laugh is available, please send it to me for increased public distribution. :)

  6. #6 Dan
    March 17, 2009

    GrrlScientist,
    Fair enough!

    However, Simon Barnes wrote an excellent criticism of that viewpoint recently (I blogged it here). Basically, critics of the Mediterranean “culture of killing” have the moral and rational high ground. So labeling you or me as an “ugly American” for such criticism is nothing but a desperate whine from someone who’s angry and very, very irrational. :-)

  7. #7 gladio
    March 17, 2009

    Would it be possible to start an international campaign to shame those abominably heartless practices in Cyprus?

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