Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 168

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Male Scarlet Tanager, Piranga olivacea, photographed in Newton Hills State Park in South Dakota.

Image: Terry Sohl, 7 June 2008 [larger view].

Photo taken with a Canon 20D, 400 5.6L.


Birds in Science and Technology

Climate change will force bone-weary birds migrating to Europe from Africa to log extra mileage, with possibly devastating consequences, according to a study released recently. The annual voyage of some species, which fly north in search of food and suitable climes, could increase by as much as 400km, the research found. “Marathon migrations for some birds are set to become even longer,” said Stephen Willis, a professor at Durham University in Britain and the lead author of the study. “This is bad news for birds like the Whitethroat, a common farmland bird. The added distance is a considerable threat. As temperatures rise and habitats change, birds will face their biggest challenge since the Pleistocene era, which ended 11 000 years ago,” he said in a statement.

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

A 15-year-old female gyrfalcon named Kenai, from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo is dead from injuries apparently sustained when the raptor was struck by a vehicle during a routine free-flight training exercise. Nancy Hawkes, the zoo’s general curator, said keepers had released Kenai to fly off grounds. Keepers launched a search for the bird by tracking the signal from her radio transmitter, but the bird was believed to have been struck before keepers could locate her. [Photographs of Kenai]

If you live in the UK and see a single Eurasian Magpie this week, consider yourself the lucky one. Because the Songbird Survival Trust has called all bird lovers to arms. They want a magpie cull and they are not just asking farmers or gamekeepers to lock and load; they want everyone with a garden to use their legal right to kill these birds now, in their breeding season, leaving their chicks to starve in the nest. The truth is that magpies have been made into the scapegoats for the declining numbers of songbirds when in, this is fact It all our fault. We have levelled and poisoned the landscape in our drive for cheap food and when the refugees fled to the cities we decked and concreted over our gardens to park our cars and save cutting the lawn. The RSPB and RSPCA — science-based organizations — strongly disagree with this cruel and misguided practice.

Birds Hurting People

Many of Con Edison’s challenges are well known — blackouts and steam pipe explosions included — but a lesser-known problem has proved no less nagging: how to protect equipment from the thousands of monk parrots or Quaker parrots monk parakeets that nest in the utility poles of Queens and Brooklyn. These birds are attracted to the heat given off by the transformers and other equipment high up on the utility poles. Their nests often can cause the devices to short-circuit, and often to catch fire, sometimes leading to local power failures. In eight fires on overhead equipment in past 18 months, the nests are the main suspects. Con Edison officials have tried, without success, to shoo the birds with nets, spikes, deterrent sprays and sound machines. “Look at that capacitor bank — it’s a condominium,” said Sam Maratto, a Con Edison supervisor. “It’s engulfed. That’s a piece of Con Ed equipment; you can’t even see it.”

Birds Helping People

In their unending fight against rodent crop damage, a number of Wasco County orchardists are whistling in the birds. “Voles and gophers cost us more money than you can possibly imagine,” said orchardist Mike Omeg. They eat the roots of young fruit trees or damage the roots of older trees so they don’t bear as well. The cost to farm production can tally in the thousands of dollars a year. Farmers have tried a variety of methods such as traps, bounties, gopher bombs and chemicals to no avail. But back before World War II farmers found that owls, hawks and other raptors helped keep rodents at bay. But some farmers are putting out owl and other bird houses to encourage the predators. “The number one limiting factor for barn owls is nesting sites,” said Omeg, who has installed 35 owl boxes and two boxes for falcon-like kestrels on his 350 acres. California growers have seen success with owl boxes in nut orchards and vineyards. “We’re all putting boxes in, not that we believe next year every single box is going to be full,” Omeg said. “We believe there’s going to be a build-up over time.” Omeg describes this natural approach as a community effort.

Rare and Endangered Bird News

The USFWS was recently awarded $14.3 million to continue captive breeding and conserving the critically endangered ‘Alala, or Hawaiian crow. The Hawaiian crow is extinct in the wild and, with a total population of only 60 birds, it is the rarest forest bird in the world. It is interesting to note that this bird was driven to extinction by commonly kept exotic invasive species, particularly feral and free-roaming housecats as well as dogs, pigs, cattle, rats and mongoose.

The nearly extinct orange-bellied parrot should start arriving on South Australia’s south-east shores in the coming months. The bird is one of most endangered species on the planet — with only about 150 remaining. The state’s Environment Department is gearing up for the arrival of the parrot by trying to teach people how to spot the bird. The department’s Rachel Sims says the more people who know about the parrot, the more they can do to help save it. “They’re coming here but we’re not sure [exactly] where they are going — so if people can learn how to look out for them and report in to their local [environment] department,” she said.

One of the world’s rarest birds, New Zealand’s kakapo, Strigops habroptilus, is now not quite so rare thanks to the arrival of 34 kakapo chicks. Those chicks, born over the past few months, take the world population of the flightless nocturnal parrot to 125. In 1995, kakapo numbers had dwindled to just 51. “It’s critically endangered but it’s in a healthier position than it was a decade ago,” says Nyia Strachan, a communications officer at New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. The prolific — by kakapo standards — breeding season was a combination of a group of females being mature enough to breed, and the prospect of a favorite kakapo food, rimu fruit. GrrlScientist comment: this story includes lots of pictures of the kakapo chicks, which are so cuuuuute!

Avian Zoonotics and Disease News

A common strain of Salmonella is killing more birds than usual this year in the Southeast and throughout Minnesota, but people with backyard bird feeders can help slow the trend with a little work. A variety of Salmonella typhimurium has been blamed for the human outbreak linked to peanuts this year, but the avian version has a slightly different genetic makeup. While the avian strain affects birds every year, the number is up this year, according to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study. The disease often spreads through contact with food or water contaminated by the feces of infected birds. People can help slow the spread of the disease by cleaning and moving bird feeders, especially if they have found dead birds nearby, according to Laurel Barnhill, bird conservation coordinator with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

The Institute for Infectious Disease Control in Sweden says caution is necessary following the death of a man from parrot fever. The Swedish agency said the unidentified 50-year-old victim from the city of Karlskrona was likely infected with Chlamydophila psittaci bacteria while cutting down a tree that contained a birds nest. The agency recommended that anyone who potentially may come in contact with wild birds or their byproducts be cautious and wash their hands thoroughly. Parrot fever, also known as psittacosis, can be spread from infected birds to humans.

Commercially available soaps and detergents could kill the bird flu virus that causes extensive damage to poultry and can infect humans, scientists in Pakistan report. Their findings were published last month in the Virology Journal reveal that simply washing poultry shed floors and equipment, transport vehicles and workers’ clothing can go a long way in containing the virus. GrrlScientist comment: This is news? It seems obvious to me that soaps kill most viruses, but soap is such an affordable solution to this problem that it is likely overlooked in favor of expensive methods of dissolving or destroying viruses. Ho-hum.

For what seems like the hundredth time, International researchers have ruled out the spreading of avian influenza or bird flu virus by migratory birds through a review of migratory bird movement. All samples studies for virus strain H5N1 on migrant birds so far were found to be negative, according to the report. The researchers monitored in real time the movement of migratory birds from India in a northward direction using satellite tracking technology. They ruled out the possibility of involvement of migratory birds in avian influenza spreading in India.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in domestic poultry in Bangladesh and in humans in Egypt.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 19 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 the wonderful “birdy” items from their online BirdNote Store.

Pepper Trail, whom I know, is one of the few forensic ornithologists in the country. Trail testified this week in a trial of a man accused of smuggling a song bird into the country to use in a songbird competition [streaming report: 4:05].

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.

BirdCams

Such a simple thing, really: An egg cracked. Then another. Two tiny hawks wriggled free, teetering feebly in their nest on a third-floor ledge of the Franklin Institute in downtown Philadelphia. But a webcam was watching and, through it, thousands of viewers. The all-day spectacle recently high above the busy streets kept people around the world glued to their computers, from One Logan Square to Missouri to England. “It’s nature taking its course, right here in front of us,” said Dennis Wint, the institute’s president and chief executive officer. “This is the collision of nature and technology,” marveled Jeffrey Kahn, a real estate investor in Center City. His wife had called midmorning to make sure he caught the action. “Now, all of a sudden, the whole world can be in Philadelphia looking in a hawk’s nest.” [Philadelphia’s live streaming HawkCam]

Miscellaneous Bird News

Birds . . . caterpillars . . . frogs . . . flowers both native and invasive — they’re all part of the unfolding spring season at Hilton Pond Center. For a photo essay about what’s happening nature-wise in our little corner of the Carolina Piedmont, please check out the most recent installment of “This Week at Hilton Pond.” (There are some stunning images of flowers there!)

Bird enthusiasts have been flocking to northwest Ohio to catch a glimpse of a bluebird normally not seen east of the Mississippi. For more than a week, there have been numerous sightings of a mountain bluebird around Toledo Express Airport and the nearby Oak Openings nature preserve. The news has spread via birding Web sites, drawing watchers from Detroit, Cleveland, Akron and even as far as Cincinnati.

For now, it seems like “Parrot Guy” Bobby Turley may have gotten his wish — the dreaded Laguna Beach Red-tailed hawk is gone. “Trust me, I love birds,” Turley said after the hawk attacked and killed his prized parrot, Banana. “But why aren’t you protecting me, man? …What’s it going to take (to move the hawk)? A dog? Another cat?” Turley, who brings an entourage of parrots for tourists to enjoy at Main Beach, was devastated when the hawk swooped down and killed his pet bird right in front of him. It was live and let live for the hawk until recently, however, when the predator flew into a window at Hotel Laguna. That did it. The bird was collected by animal shelter staff and sent to the Orange County Bird of Prey Center. “At this point, we don’t know whether the hawk is alive or deceased,” said Sgt. Jason Kravetz.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Bob, 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!