Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 166

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In a dramatic discovery, BirdLife has filmed Common Cuckoos calling with a “Ooo-Cuck, Ooo-Cuck”. (April fools?)

Image: Greg & Yvonne Dean/WorldWildlifeImages.com.


Birds in Science and Technology

Count your chickens after they hatch, and they may do a little arithmetic themselves. Chicks only 3 or 4 days old manage an animal version of adding and subtracting, says Rosa Rugani of the University of Trento Center for Mind/Brain Sciences in Rovereto, Italy. Inspired by experiments with human babies, Rugani and her colleagues worked out tests based on adding objects to and taking them away from little piles behind screens. With no special math coaching, the chicks did a decent job of keeping track of object shifts representing such problems as 4 – 2 = 2 and 1 + 2 = 3, she and her colleagues report.

We all know that people sometimes change their behavior when someone is looking their way. Now, a new study shows that jackdaws — birds related to crows and ravens with eyes that appear similar to human eyes — can do the same. “Jackdaws seem to recognize the eye’s role in visual perception, or at the very least they are extremely sensitive to the way that human eyes are oriented,” said Auguste von Bayern, formerly of the University of Cambridge and now at the University of Oxford. When presented with a preferred food, hand-raised jackdaws took significantly longer to retrieve the reward when a person was directing his eyes towards the food than when he was looking away, according to the research team led by Nathan Emery of the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London. The birds hesitated only when the person in question was unfamiliar and thus potentially threatening.

Cats, it turns out, are a serious threat to birds and other wildlife. But especially birds, which are in steep decline, according to a recent State of the Birds survey, which lists among factors predation by non-native animals and house pets (mostly cats). Today, backyards are increasingly important as bird havens — even as human populations, the most serious threat to all wildlife, swell and pave and construct and pollute. But there are 77 million pet cats in the United States alone. Further, cats are believed responsible for spreading disease to wild animals and even marine mammals, which can become affected by parasites found in cat poop delivered to the ocean, along with kitty litter, via sewer systems and storm runoff.

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

The manager of the local Walmart and its exterminator were charged with animal cruelty after they allegedly used inhumane methods to kill birds that had gotten into the store, the president of the Atlantic County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said last week. The birds apparently entered the store from the garden center, said local SPCA President Nancy Beall. Store management hired a Pennsylvania exterminator to get them out.

The exotic water birds never had a chance against the two enormous St. Bernards who transformed the normally tranquil aviary behind a town home into a killing field. “There was blood and guts and feathers everywhere,” said Milton Animal Control Officer Richard Pine recently describing the gruesome scene at the Muddyduck Water Fowl Breeding Center Inc., owned by bird enthusiasts Clyde Robinson Jr. “They didn’t have time to eat the birds because they were on a killing frenzy.” By the time the two canines were removed from the fenced-in pen that early February morning they had slaughtered 170 of the water fowl and maimed another half dozen, according to an incident report.

People Helping Birds

A sandhill crane that spent at least a month with an arrow through her body near Wisconsin Rapids has been reunited with her mate. The bird was treated for six months in Antigo before being released last week. Rehabilitator Marge Gibson said the bird took three steps and flew into the air and within 30 seconds, she heard her mate and circled down to meet him.

The great blue herons have returned to their colony at Post Point, Washington state, a season after suddenly abandoning their young. Concerned about protecting the birds as they nest in the coming months, city officials are asking people to keep their distance and stay off an illegally built trail that goes through the colony. “It’s insensitive to the heron colony,” Renee LaCroix, environmental coordinator with the Bellingham Public Works Department, said of the trail. “They are really sensitive to disturbance.”

The Northwest’s spotted owl has proved to be a barometer of the federal government’s changing attitudes toward endangered species, and environmental issues more broadly. Now there are signs the political climate surrounding the reclusive and rare owl is shifting again. Obama administration officials signaled recently they want to scrap a controversial Bush-era plan for owl recovery, asking a federal district court judge to let them rewrite the plan, rather than defend it against lawsuits from both environmentalists and the timber industry. “This is basically the train wreck that Bush left behind. And why bother to put the broken trains back on the track? You can just start over,” said Dominick DellaSalla, of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, who served on a team that helped draft an earlier version of the owl plan.

London Underground (LU) passengers are being urged to help log London’s bird population by entering a photographic competition. Entrants are asked to photograph wild birds within a five-minute walk of a Tube station for a chance to win a prize in the Mind the Bird contest. The contest is being launched by LU and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). “We all rush around in our daily lives, rarely taking time to pause and admire what’s going on in the wider world. Here’s the ideal excuse to lift your eyes and discover the wildlife that lives alongside us,” said Tim Webb, from RSPB London.

The UK Government’s Darwin Initiative has granted BirdLife International £ 289,884 (€ 307,320 / $US 414,190) to implement a three-year island conservation project in the Pacific. The project, ‘Restoration of Priority Pacific Island Ecosystems for People and Biodiversity‘, aims to improve the quality of life and livelihoods of people through the restoration and sustainable management of island ecosystems in Palau and Fiji. The Darwin Initiative aims to assist countries rich in biodiversity, but which lack financial resources, to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity. “The British High Commission recognizes the importance of BirdLife International’s work in helping to restore Pacific Island ecosystems”, said Shaun Cleary — The Acting British High Commissioner in Fiji. “We were happy to recommend this project to the Darwin Advisory Committee, and we are enormously pleased that Darwin Initiative funding has now been agreed. It is testimony to the value of BirdLife International’s activities that this is their third time in Fiji to secure financial assistance from the Darwin Initiative”.

On 18 March 2009, the Maltese Prime Minister announced that there will be no spring bird hunting in Malta in 2009. Replying to questions on the national TV, Dr. Lawrence Gonzi said that no spring hunting could take place while the European court case was pending, so as not to prejudice the case at the European Court of Justice. “The Prime Minister’s decision gives us hope that Malta is starting to take serious action for the protection of the European Union’s common natural heritage” said Joseph Mangion, BirdLife Malta President. GrrlScientist comment: How long do you suppose this will last? After all, these bozos with guns think it is their divine right to blast the shit out of every feathered creature that dares to fly across their airspace, so how do you think this announcement will be enforced?

Hunting in the Middle East has been recognized as a major threat to one of the world’s most threatened birds. A joint survey mission by RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the Syrian Society for Conservation of Wildlife (SSCW) have uncovered new dangers in Syria to the Sociable Lapwing, Vanellus gregarius. Alarming news shows that Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwings have been shot by hunters in north-east Syria, one of the bird’s most important migration sites. The species is thought to have declined by 90% since the 1990s; the world population of this bird is now thought to number no more than 11,200 individuals. “We have been striving to protect and understand more about this rapidly-declining species,” said RSPB’s Rob Sheldon. “Sociable Lapwing faces many threats and clearly hunting is emerging as a key danger. We are however heartened by the quick response of the Syrian authorities and by the evidence that hunters are willing to spare them, if they are made aware of the bird’s plight.”

Rare or Endangered Birds

After a dismal nesting season last year, scientists have seen a surge in the number of great egrets, white ibises and endangered wood storks breeding in western Palm Beach County marshes and other parts of the Everglades. The reason: South Florida’s drought has created hospitable conditions. Shrinking pools of water in western marshes make it easier for them to find food to feed their young. Water levels are so ideal in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge that even the endangered wood stork is showing its white feathers there. The birds have not been seen nesting in the refuge since 2001. Before that, wood stork nests had not been spotted there since 1990. “This year it is doubly exciting,” said Cindy Fury, a senior biologist at the refuge, which occupies the northernmost remnant of the Everglades. “We are having a good nesting year and we also have wood storks.”

Two young adult bald ibis spotted in Syria could be mean new hope for the critically endangered species, Scottish-based conservationists report.The bird, which was revered by the Egyptian Pharaohs, clings to survival in the Middle East and Africa. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) staff picked up a report of two birds that did not have identification rings during a visit to Syria to study rare migratory species. This would suggest the pair were previously unknown to conservationists. Hunters, poisonings and starvation have been blamed for the species’ decline.

On 2 April 2009, efforts to conserve Europe’s threatened natural heritage received much-needed support from high-level decision makers in Brussels. On the occasion of a BirdLife International event celebrating the 30th anniversary of the EU Birds strengthen efforts in halting the decline of species and habitats (biodiversity), building on existing nature legislation such as the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. “It is [...] self-evident that protecting birds needs effective international cooperation and it was therefore no coincidence that the Wild Birds Directive was the first piece of EU Environmental legislation dedicated to nature conservation”, the Commissioner stated at the event.

April Fools Day Bird News

Long believed to be extinct — the Carolina Parakeet, North America’s only member of the parrot family — has been discovered in the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in the Mosquitia region of northeastern Honduras. A little fewer than 100 years after the last confirmed sighting of the species in the United States, a research team today announced that a small non-migratory population survives in vast areas of neotropical forest in Honduras. A full report is due to be Published in the journal Science in the April issue. The findings include multiple sightings of the long thought to be extinct parakeet as well as preliminary data collected from an male bird tracked through radio telemetry. The evidence was gathered during an intensive year-long search in the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve (RPBR) involving more than 50 experts and field biologists working together as part of the Parakeet Conservation Partnership, led by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University and The Nature Conservancy.

Scientists have reported a strange twist in the tale of Europe’s harbinger of spring the Common Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus. In a dramatic discovery, returning cuckoos have been heard and filmed calling with a highly distinctive variation of the normal call. The new call is best described as “Ooo-Cuck, Ooo-Cuck”. Includes YouTube video (also refer to the featured image at top).

Saying the recent downing of a US Airways Airbus A320 following an inflight encounter with geese was “an avian tragedy unprecedented in the course of modern human events,” the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed suit in US District Court of New York against the airline for the “unwarranted slaughter, fricasseeing, slicing, dicing, julienning and barbequeing of at least four Canadian Geese.”

Not April Fools Day Bird News (but should be)

An African Grey parrot must appear in a Florida court as part of a civil lawsuit over its rightful owner, a judge says. Palm Beach County Judge James Martz ordered the $2,000 parrot to appear in his court to help decide which Boca Raton, Fla., woman owns the bird. “The bird wears an identification ring on his claw, Siegel said. And we feel that it’s necessary (to prove ownership) if the numbers on the ring become essential.”

A man was so desperate to find his missing parrot, he daubed an appeal in graffiti on walls in Colchester, and landed an £80 fine. Mark Norman, of Winnock Road, Colchester, UK, was caught red handed by police officers in the early hours. The 38-year-old scribbled a description of his scarlet macaw, Ozzy, and his mobile phone number around the town center. Mr Norman, whose pet macaw went missing was arrested and given an on-the-spot fine. “I didn’t care about getting in trouble at the time. I was just thinking about getting my Ozzy back. I was distraught,” he said. “I wrote in half a dozen places in the town and put signs up in windows.”

Avian Zoonotics and Diseases News

A dead crow discovered in Fresno is the first bird to test positive for West Nile virus in the county this year, the Fresno County Health Department said recently. Fresno County joins Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties as sites where the virus, which can be fatal to humans, has been discovered in birds this year. West Nile virus often mimics influenza, with fevers, body aches and eye pain. While it can be fatal, fewer than 1% of those infected become ill, and about 80% have no symptoms, according to the California Department of Public Health. People become infected when bitten by mosquitoes carrying the virus. The mosquitoes also infect birds, horses and other animals.

An avid bird watcher, Maureen Eiger is watching the birds in her yard even closer these days. “(It’s) not to say that we shouldn’t feed birds, but what we need to do is make sure we keep our feeders clean,” say Eiger Salmonella outbreak spreading throughout Western and Southwest Virginia. The outbreak is killing small birds in large numbers. “They pick it up with their feet and as they move from feeder to feeder they transfer that contamination,” says Jim Parkhurst a wildlife expert at Virginia Tech.

Public health officials in Toronto are investigating whether some pet shop workers have contracted a rare respiratory illness from a parrot that died. The illness is most common among pet shop employees, veterinary staff and farm workers, and it’s rare: between 1990 and 2006, there were 25 human cases reported in Canada. Pet shop worker Sandra Harvey has been diagnosed with a possible case of psittacosis pneumonia, also known as parrot fever. People can catch it by breathing in infected dust from cages of infected birds. “The cough was just so bad,” Harvey said. “My chest, my lungs, my back just ached.”

Scientists report that H5N1 avian influenza viruses may be adapting to pigs, as evidenced by the finding that H5N1 viruses isolated from pigs in Indonesia were less harmful to mice than were H5N1 viruses from chickens. The finding suggests that in growing in pigs, the virus may have become less harmful to mammals in general, the authors report. That sounds reassuring, but the authors say it may mean the virus is one step closer to turning into a human pandemic strain. In the study, scientists from Japan and Indonesia collected viruses from chickens and pigs in Indonesia, grew them in laboratory cell cultures, and used them to infect mice. They found that the viruses from pigs were less lethal to mice than the viruses from chickens, according to their recent report. “We found that swine isolates were less virulent to mice than avian isolates, suggesting that the viruses became attenuated during their replication in pigs,” the report states.

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

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 5 April 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.

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.

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 have returned from Costa Rica, and are telling us about their adventures banding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in the Aloe Vera plantations of Guanacaste Province. They also began analyzing their data from their just-finished expeditions and compiling cumulative info for all their work to date. To read about this work, their final Costa Rica-related installment of “This Week at Hilton Pond” for this year is pretty comprehensive, with an account of our follow-up banding (including their first-ever return of a non-hummingbird), a report on 2009 successes, a summary of their first five years in the field, and their usual photos of various Costa Rican flora and fauna (some of which are flowers we had not seen ruby-throats visiting until this year). Here’s the latest photoessay, about their early March snow, a Rufous Hummingbird they banded in Rock Hill SC, and some ducks that came to visit.

A good friend of mine makes a birdy desktop calendar each month that you can upload for free, and this month is no different, so be sure to visit her and add her calendar to your desktop as you eagerly await the arrival of springtime.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Diane, Cliff, 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 travelgirl
    April 6, 2009

    as always, a wonderfully-informative post. and a big thank-you for sending traffic my way (re the monthly desktop calendar). mucho appreciado, kind lady :)

  2. #2 Jerry Haigh
    April 7, 2009

    What a fascinating collection of reports. Well done. Because of my focus on African wildlife there are two bird-related stories that I picked up in my blog A Glasgow Vet in Africa that might interest you. Both concern the deliberate use of Furadan the insecticide made by FMC Corporation to poison birds in Kenya. In the first case (March 15th) the stuff is used to poison from 25 to 200 birds a day by hunters who have captured and tethered de-flighted birds that act as decoys. In the second (March 30th), the Furadan was used as a crop spray on millet in an attempt to control marauding red-billed queleas. You can find more details is you go to the blog site & click on Furadan in the index.

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