Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 164

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Recent surveys in Myanmar and Vietnam are adding to our knowledge of the non-breeding distribution of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Eurynorhynchus pygmeus.

Image: Zheng Jianping/RareBirdsYearbook.


Birds in Science and Technology

According to the most comprehensive report ever published in the USA, nearly one third of America’s 800 native bird species are endangered, threatened, or in significant decline, thanks to habitat loss, pollution, climate change, competition from invasive species and other threats. The shocking report, published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, reveals that of the more than 800 bird species that inhabit terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including the Hawaiian islands, 67 are federally listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as ‘species of conservation’ concern due to their small distributions, high threat levels, or declining populations.

More than 40% of migrant bird passing between Africa, the Middle East and Europe, have declined in the last three decades. Of these 10% are classified by BirdLife as Globally Threatened or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. “Every year, migratory birds brave mountains, oceans, deserts and storms on their journeys to survive”, said Dr Marco Lambertini, CEO of BirdLife International. “Their epic flights connect us all – crossing our borders, cultures and lives. However, we are destroying the habitat they need to rest and re-fuel, building hazardous structures such as powerlines which cross their path, and illegally shooting and trapping them”, added Dr Lambertini.

Female Gouldian finches “decide” to have more male chicks if they are less compatible with their mate. The birds, which have either red or black heads, prefer to mate with males with the same head coloring, as this signifies a better genetic match. Chicks from a mismatched mating — particularly the females — are weaker and more likely to die very early. A report finds that the birds in mismatched pairings compensate for this by having more male chicks in their brood.

Some female songbirds sweet singing turns downright catty when another chick enters the picture. Peruvian warbling antbird couples harmonize to warn rival couples away from their territories. But put a single female nearby and the duet turns into a musical shouting match. That’s the finding of new research on the birds by Joseph Tobias and Nathalie Seddon, a married pair of zoologists from the University of Oxford. The songs of warbling-antbird pairs usually begin as evenly spaced series of couplets. Females can either meld their tunes to their partner’s — or jam the other’s signal by jumping in at the wrong time. “Specifically, females responded to unpaired sexual rivals by jamming the signals of their own mates,” Tobias and Seddon wrote. “Perhaps the most striking result is that males don’t like females ‘jamming’ their song,” Tobias said. Males “try to avoid [the females'] jamming, suggesting that they perceive it as costly in some way.”

A small dinosaur, newly dubbed Tianyulong confuciusi, that once roamed northeastern China was covered with a stiff, hairlike fuzz, a discovery that suggests feathers began to evolve much earlier than many researchers believe — maybe even in the earliest dinosaurs. Scientists had previously identified feathers and so-called “dinofuzz” in theropods, two-legged meat-eaters that are widely considered the ancestors of birds. But the Chinese creature is only distantly related to theropods, and the hollow filaments of its fuzz may be primitive feathers, say the scientists who published this research.

Each year, it is estimated that millions of birds collide with communication towers. Joelle Gehring of the Michigan Natural Features Inventory at Michigan State University and her colleagues discovered that a simple alteration of the lighting scheme on these towers may reduce bird mortality by as much as 71 percent. The authors compared avian fatalities, mostly of tropical migrating songbirds, at towers equipped with different combinations of red and white strobe-like, flashing or steady-burning lights. The researchers found fewer dead birds under towers equipped with only red or white flashing lights.

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 company developed and operates for the USAF].

People Hurting Birds

When police officers went to Michael R. Arraiol’s apartment to investigate a complaint of domestic assault last week, they walked into the kitchen and found the 40-year-old city man on his knees picking up what appeared to be feathers from the floor. A quick look around the kitchen and the officers soon discovered the source of the feathers: Arraiol’s bloodied pet parrot lay dead with a broken neck on the kitchen table. When the officers asked him what happened, Arraiol, who was immediately suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs as well as being a known idiot with severe anger management issues, told them the bird “just freaked out and died.” Ummmm, yeah, right.

A man accused of possessing nearly 1,000 bird eggs will have his case heard in the High Court in the UK. John Dodsworth appeared at South Tyneside Magistrates recently, and denied charges of illegal possession of bird eggs and 12 stuffed animals. The collection was discovered in October 2006, when police raided his home in Rodin Avenue, South Shields. The defence has applied to the High Court to see if the case can be dropped because of an “abuse of process”.

People Helping Birds

With a little help from naturalists, one of the most beautiful birds native to the area is making a comeback. As part of that ongoing effort, the Autauga Bluebird Trail in Alabama is expanding, taking its first steps toward becoming a statewide effort. It started in the spring of 2006, with a plan to put nest boxes along Alabama 14 in Autauga County. This year it has spread into Elmore and Coosa counties, for a total of 225 boxes aimed at increasing the number of eastern bluebirds in the area. “We had a good year last year, fledging over 600 bluebirds,” said Tommy Pratt, who lives in Prattville and is helping coordinate the effort. “The long-range goal is to have an Alabama bluebird trail, following Highway 14 as it crosses the state from Georgia to Mississippi. I don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but we’re trying.”

Birds Helping People

A parrot that alerted his owner about a baby who was choking was recognized as a hero by the Red Cross. Willie the parrot was given the Animal Lifesaver Award during the “Breakfast of Champions” event attended by Gov. Bill Ritter and Mayor John Hickenlooper. Willie received the award Friday for his actions in November, when he and owner Megan Howard were baby-sitting a toddler. Willie repeatedly yelled “Mama, baby” when Howard went to the bathroom and the toddler started to choke on her breakfast.

Rare Birds News

Two surveys of the wintering grounds of Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, starkly illustrate the extreme and growing pressures this Critically Endangered species faces. The second annual survey on the coast of Myanmar found one new wintering site, but numbers overall were less than in the previous year. But in Vietnam, where more than 27 individuals were recorded in the mid-1990s, not a single Spoon-billed Sandpiper was seen in January 2009. “There is still a chance that some Spoon-billed Sandpiper are staying in the area, since we didn’t cover the whole coast, and because two birds were seen in Quan Lan on 26 December, 2008″, said survey member Evgeny Syroechkovskiy. But he added: “We may have missed some individuals, but not any serious numbers.”

Scientists in New Zealand have rescued the world’s largest parrot from the brink of extinction. The population of the flightless kakapo has surpassed 100 birds for the first time in decades. The milestone was reached this month after six chicks hatched on Codfish Island, one of two predator-free islands where kakapo numbers are being restored. There are now 105 birds, more than twice the number in 1999.

ARKive now has a free list of threatened and endangered bird species online. This alphabetical (by common name) listing includes images, video, as well as facts about each species, description, range and habitat, biology, threats and conservation status, and references.

Avian Zoonoses and Diseases News

The probable suspected cause of death of finches, pine siskins and other birds in North Carolina has been identified. According to tests conducted earlier last week by the N.C. Department of Agriculture Consumer Services Food and Drug Protection Division, Salmonella bacteria was detected in Wild Birds Unlimited Wildlife Blend produced by Kentucky-based Burkmann Feeds. Burkmann is voluntarily recalling 20-pound bags with the manufacturing date code 81132200291608124 sold exclusively at Wild Birds Unlimited franchises throughout the state. Other Burkmann feeds are being tested. [11 March 2009 Press release].

Scientists who analyzed 67 H5N1 avian influenza viruses from across Africa report that the viruses fall into three distinct sublineages, or families, and that some have mutations that make them resistant to antiviral drugs. The scientists also found that some of the African viruses have genetic markers that are characteristic of human flu viruses rather than avian strains, according to their report, published recently in the online journal PLoS One. “These findings raise concern for the possible human health risk presented by viruses with these genetic properties and highlight the need for increased efforts to monitor the evolution of A/H5N1 viruses across the African continent,” says the report by a large international team of scientists. The group includes several from African countries and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in humans in Vietnam and Thailand.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 22 March 2009. New BirdNotes can be heard daily 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.

Humpback whales have come up with a novel way for getting an easy snack — stealing birds’ dinners. A BBC crew filmed seabirds carefully corralling unwieldy shoals of herring into tightly packed “bait balls” from which the fish are easy to pluck. But they discovered that passing whales would wait for the birds to complete their hard graft before devouring the ball of fish in a single gulp. The team said this was the first time they had seen this behavior. Includes video [1:46].

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 first dedicated field guide to the birds of Syria was recently launched. Written in Arabic, it has been jointly produced by the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife (SSCW) and BirdLife International and covers a total of 394 species including Syrian Serin, Serinus syriacus (Vulnerable) and Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwing, Vanellus gregarius. “The release of the Birds of Syria field-guide gives a significant rise in hopes to protect threatened birds in the country, and gives opportunity for the growing conservation efforts in Syria” said Dr Akram Darwish, Vice Chair of the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife.

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

The naturalists at Hilton Pond report that their third week of banding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Costa Rica was their most productive to date — plus they got some dynamite views of flora and flora they had not seen or photographed before. To view these images and read about the impressive work of the Gamma Niners, please visit their 12-21 February installment of “This Week at Hilton Pond.” Info about participating in next year’s Operation RubyThroat hummingbird expeditions to Costa Rica is now posted; they’re still finalizing plans for two other Winter 2010 trips — one each to Guatemala and Belize.

District Judge George Larke refuses to reconsider his order banning a Summerfield, Louisiana, resident from feeding birds outside his home. Beau Blanchard, 32, whose neighbors successfully argued that his feeding was causing a nuisance, asked Larke for a new trial because his neighbors lacked the evidence to prove he violated restrictive codes, he said. Larke denied Blanchard’s request, signing his decision recently without holding a hearing on the case. Blanchard plans to continue fighting the ban, which he said violates his rights as a homeowner. “I’m willing to fight this as far as I can go,” he said. “What good does it do for me to live here if I can’t do what I want in my yard?”

Speaking of feeding birds, the Scotts Co. LLC of Marysville, Ohio, recently expanded its voluntary wild bird food suet recall to include five additional varieties and additional manufacturing date codes (from May 13, 2008 to Feb. 8, 2009) from its initial recall in mid-February. The newly recalled products may contain peanut meal from the Peanut Corp. of America’s facilities in Texas or Virginia and could be contaminated with Salmonella, Scotts reported. The initial recall focuses on products with peanut mill from the PCA’s Georgia plant.

“Art for Nature: The Ivory-billed Woodpecker,” a new exhibit in the Jane Adams Breed Gallery at the Center for Contemporary Arts, is hosted by Abilene artist and teacher Larry Millar. The invitation exhibit is for various other artists to express their interests in one elusive part of nature: the ivory-billed woodpecker. This iconic bird has (amazingly!) become a high priority for conservation in the Big Woods of Arkansas — nevermind that THIS SPECIES IS EXTINCT. Half the proceeds from this exhibit will go to the Big Woods Conservation Partnership and the faith-based Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Foundation in the hopes of preserving the bird’s natural habitat.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Ian, Kathy, 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 Juuro
    March 24, 2009

    That bit about anti-collision lights was highly neat.

    Cell masts here use steady red lights. Higher towers have a combination of steady red and flashing white. I think I’ll drop a a message with the link to a contact I have in our regulatory authority. Thanks!

  2. #2 "GrrlScientist"
    March 24, 2009

    Juuro — be sure to let me know what happens! i’d love to know that i indirectly helped to save some migratory birds, if only by drawing people’s attention to research they might not have otherwise read about.

  3. #3 Lori Schubring
    March 24, 2009

    The food at Wild Birds Unlimited was NOT the cause of the Salmonellosis outbreak. Please be sure to conduct research before reporting information. A different strain of salmonella was found in the food.

    http://www.wbu.com/news/pressreleases/2009_0311_recall.pdf

  4. #4 "GrrlScientist"
    March 25, 2009

    lori — thanks for the correction. i hope you also contacted Deborah Salomon, the feature writer who researched and wrote the story that was published by The Pilot after your press release. i’ve linked to the press release in previous issues of Birds in the News.

  5. #5 genesgalore
    March 28, 2009

    got a good reference for the symptomology that differentiates salmonella from bird flu???? the reason i ask is because whatever is affecting the siskins and redpolls in this part of the world (northern michigan), makes then oblivious??? to human presence whilst they continue to feed at ones feet.