Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 169

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Barn Owls, Tyto alba, have been used as
natural agricultural pest controllers around the world.

Image: Amir Ezer.


Birds in Technology

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].

Here’s something to read on the subway: the FAA bird strike database. It shows that the number of birds and other animals hitting airplanes has increased dramatically over the past 19 years, and keeps getting worse. The Federal Aviation Administration released the data online, detailing more than 89,000 incidents since 1990. The data shows the number of strikes per 10,000 flights tripled from 0.527 to 1.751 between 1990 and 2007, the last full year in the database. [FAA and USDoT wildlife air strike information 1990-2007: Free PDF]

People Hurting Birds

A roaming dog killed roughly 50 adult wedge-tailed shearwaters at the Nature Conservancy’s Mo’omomi Beach Preserve in northwestern Molokai, the conservancy said. “This is pretty traumatic,” said Ed Misaki, the conservancy’s Molokai director of programs. Misaki said he has seen two or three dead shearwaters killed by predators but nothing of this magnitude at Mo’omomi. The birds cannot stand upright on their legs and have difficulty moving about on the land, making them easy prey while nesting.

On May 14 BirdLife International will release the 2009 Red List update for birds. BirdLife is the official IUCN Red List Authority for birds and this year will see a number of species being uplisted — meaning their situation is getting worse. The 2009 update highlights the plight of Sidamo Lark, Heteromirafra sidamoensis. The lark is adapted to Ethiopia’s “rangeland” — the savanna of native grasses that traditionally covered large parts of east Africa, but is now rapidly disappearing. In areas where the Liben plain has been overgrown by bush, converted into farmland or destroyed by overgrazing, the team rarely found Sidamo Larks. If the rangeland goes, so will the lark.

Birds Helping People

Barn Owls, Tyto alba, and Common Kestrels, Falco tinnunculus, are being encouraged by farmers in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to control agricultural pests instead of using harmful chemicals. “The two species provide round-the-clock predation of mice, rats and voles and have been used throughout history as natural pest controllers”, said Dr Yossi Leshem of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. “A pair of Barn Owls alone can eat over 2,000 rodents in a year!”

Rare Bird News

The mating season of the Hispaniola parrots begins and they again face the same perils: poachers will sack hundreds of nests for the pets market, and many people will buy their chicks, heightening the bird’s endangered species status. The ecologist Simon Guerrero hopes there’s some advance this year, since members of the ecological group Jaragua and the National Environmental Protection Service (SENPA) will monitor the Jaragua National Park’s Sabana de Algodon (southwest), the parrot’s main mating area for the first time.

A fuzzy fledgling of Bermuda’s national bird, spotted on a secluded offshore sanctuary this week, may help bring the rare creature back from the brink of extinction. The baby bird, found nestled in an artificial concrete burrow on protected Nonsuch Island by scientists, is the first recorded Bermuda petrel chick seen on the 16-acre (6-hectare) site for centuries, Bermuda’s Department of Conservation. Just 300 of the endangered birds, commonly known as Cahows, exist in and around Bermuda. They breed nowhere else in the world.

A conservation program for one of world’s most threatened birds, the Tahiti Monarch, Pomarea nigra, has received a welcome double boost by the appointment of La Société d’Ornithologie de Polynésie as the Species Guardian and financial support from the BirdLife Preventing Extinction Program. The Tahiti Monarch was once widespread in Tahiti but predation of the nests by Black Rat, Rattus rattus — that not only eat the eggs and young, but kill the females on the nests — meant that by the 1990s Tahiti Monarch was limited to four valleys in Western Tahiti. It is now classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List.

The latest comprehensive survey of Black-faced Spoonbill, Platalea minor, has revealed a decrease in the number of wintering birds, with 2,041 individuals counted compared to 2,065 in 2008. In the late 1980s, only a few hundred birds were recorded at two sites in southern Taiwan and Hong Kong, and all were under threat. As recently as 1999, Black-faced Spoonbill was classified by BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered.

Avian Zoonotics and Disease News

Influenza patients between ages 10 and 17 who took Tamiflu were 54 percent more likely to exhibit serious abnormal behavior than those who did not take the antiflu drug, according to a final report by a Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research team. The ministry suspended the use of the drug by 10- to 19-year-olds in 2007 after a number of children behaved abnormally after taking it. Examples of such behavior include one child who started to hop after taking the drug and another who tried to jump from a balcony. When the team analyzed children who had displayed serious abnormal behavior that led to injury or death, it found those who had taken Tamiflu were 25 percent more likely to behave unusually.

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

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 26 April 2009. BirdNotes can be heard live seven mornings per week at 8:58-9:00am on NPR affiliated radio stations throughout Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia, Canada. 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.

A great horned owl apparently likes living at a Home Depot in Arkansas. Last January, an owl flew inside of the enclosed garden center during an ice storm and laid eggs atop a pallet of merchandise. One baby owl decided to stick around. Mice are not a problem at this 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

Last June, the Hilton Pond naturalists wrote about a Painted Turtle who excavated her nest just outside their office window. Since then several people have asked what became of the hatchlings, but not until This Week at Hilton Pond did they finally have the answer. To learn the fate of this wandering turtle’s reproductive efforts please visit the Hilton Pond photo essay for 15-21 April 2009. The photos are of the wee turtles are SO cute!

Has anyone heard of a blue Sparrow? A blue Eurasian Tree Sparrow popped into a garden in Sydney, Australia, a couple of times in the past few days with a flock of ordinary brown sparrows and pigged out on the seeds in the bird feeder. After photographing the bird, experts have concluded it was not dyed or painted, nor was the image photoshopped, so how did a brown bird become blue? Story includes a photograph of this unique blue sparrow.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Ian, 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 Carrie Burrows
    April 28, 2009

    Farmers in my area use barn owls too! I wrote about it on Earth Day =D

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