Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 172

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Lear’s Macaw, Anodorhynchus leari: a great example of a conservation success story.

Image: Andy and Gill Swash, World Wildlife Images.


Birds in Science

A record number of bird species are now listed as threatened with extinction, a global assessment has revealed. The IUCN Red List evaluation considered 1,227, or 12%, of all known bird species to be at risk, with 192 species described as Critically Endangered. The main threats affecting bird numbers continued to be agriculture, logging and invasive species, the report said. However, it added that where conservation measures had been put in place, bird populations had recovered (see one example at top). “It is extremely worrying that the number of Critically Endangered birds on the IUCN Red List continues to increase, despite successful conservation initiatives around the world,” said Simon Stuart, chairman of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission.

If a blue jay sees a normal-looking salamander, it will eat it. But if the same bird sees a freak, it may let it go. University of Tennessee researcher Benjamin Fitzpatrick says this discovery, which his team reports recently, suggests why rare traits persist in a population. Predators detect common forms of prey more easily, the scientists figure. The majority that share a common look are always on the dinner menu, while oddballs are left to reproduce. “Maintenance of variation is a classic paradox in evolution because both selection and drift tend to remove variation from populations,” Fitzpatrick explained today. “If one form has an advantage, such as being harder to spot, it should replace all others. Likewise, random drift [genetic change that occurs by chance] alone will eventually result in loss of all but one form when there are no fitness differences. There must therefore be some advantage that allows unusual traits to persist.”

People Hurting Birds

A 34-year-old Garden Grove man pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges of conspiring to smuggle songbirds into Los Angeles from Vietnam. Duc Le was ordered to stand trial June 30 before U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson. Le and Sony Dong, 46, were named in an eight-count federal indictment charging them with illegally importing wildlife, including one injurious species, and lying to investigators. Both were arrested last month after investigators discovered Dong had 14 live Asian songbirds, individually wrapped in cloth, strapped to his legs and ankles as he attempted to enter the country at Los Angeles International Airport, according to court documents. A subsequent search warrant executed at Le’s home uncovered 51 additional birds and numerous cages, prosecutors said.

A least tern — a threatened species — was killed sometime Wednesday night or early Thursday morning (last week) after a random dickhead drove a truck on to Fort Myers Beach in Florida and barreled through a clearly marked nesting area. Along with the bird, the suspect also crushed several eggs believed to be snowy plovers (endangered). “It was deliberate,” said Joanne Adams, an officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The bird and the nest were in a marked “Critical Wildlife Area” along the Gulf side of the San Carlos Point condominium. Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said they do not have any suspects at this time, but have plenty of clues.

Bald eagles, bouncing back after years of decline, are swaggering forth with an appetite for great cormorant chicks that threatens to wipe out that bird population in the United States. The eagles, perhaps finding less fish to eat, are flying to Maine’s remote rocky islands where they’ve been raiding the only known nesting colonies of great cormorants in the U.S. Snatching waddling chicks from the ground and driving adults from their nests, the eagles are causing the numbers of the glossy black birds to decline from more than 250 pairs to 80 pairs since 1992. “They’re like thugs. They’re like gang members. They go to these offshore islands where all these seabirds are and the birds are easy picking,” said Brad Allen, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “These young eagles are harassing the bejesus out of all the birds, and the great cormorants have been taking it on the chin.” GrrlScientist comment: And who do you suppose overfished all those fish that eagles typically prey upon? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count!

People Helping Birds

The Environmental Protection Agency FINALLY issued a final rule recently banning the use of the pesticide carbofuran on food crops, saying it poses an unacceptable health risk, especially to children. The insecticide, sold under the brand name Furadan, has been under EPA review for years. Its granular form was banned in the mid-1990s because it was blamed for killing millions of migratory birds. The agency began its effort to remove the pesticide completely from the market in 2006. Furadan is manufactured by Philadelphia-based FMC Corp., which has fought the ban. The company said on its Web site that Furadan “remains a useful product, vital to the sustainability of agriculture ” and that its proper use “does not create a risk to human health, wildlife or the environment.” GrrlScientist comment: In true George W Bush style publicity, this horrible company knows that repeating its lies a thousand times will result in the public forgetting what the truth really is. I don’t know which makes me angrier; the company’s cynicism or the public’s stupidity.

A legion of highly skilled volunteer ornithologists is helping a team of scientists to identify the best stopover sites for migrating birds in the southern coastal zone of Lake Ontario. The study specifically focuses on Neotropical migrants. These songbirds summer in the subarctic part of Canada through northern New York and winter in Central America and the northern part of South America. The fieldwork conducted by the volunteers will help verify a model that uses geographic information systems technology to select optimal resting locations based on distance from the lakeshore and the extent and diversity of wood cover. “Conservation of migratory birds requires the protection of a network of stopover sites where birds can rest and put on weight for the next leg of the journey,” says John Waud, professor of environmental science at RIT and lead scientist on the study. “These sites have to be rich in food and have cover so the birds aren’t exposed to predators when eating. They need a lot of these stopover sites and these sites are the focus of conservation right now for migratory bird species.”

Fluffy peregrine falcon chicks living in Worcester (UK) are fit, healthy and fast approaching three weeks old. Recently, experts from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) attached rings to the baby birds, who have made St Andrew’s Spire in Deansway their home. The rings will help conservationists track the birds as they grow older. The RSPB gave all four chicks a general health check up at the same time. “Matt Smith from the BTO went out to the nest, collected the chicks in a cotton bag and brought them inside,” said Andrew Sheppard, from the charity’s Date with Nature team. “We took them out one at a time to weigh them, measure their beaks and get them ringed. Their mother was flying around making a racket. She was a bit wary of what was going on, but she was soon back and perched overlooking them.”

The Flying High Program, (Alzando el vuelo in Spanish), was created by SEO/BirdLife in 2006 and has just begun its second phase. The first phase involved national authorities, local communities and private landowners in protecting habitats where Spanish Imperial Eagle, Aquila adalberti, lives. Spanish Imperial Eagle is a flagship species in Spain, with a population of 253 breeding pairs it occurs in only five Spanish regions and also in Portugal. Spain holds 99% of the world breeding population. The second phase of the Program, which runs from 2009 until 2012, is based on a large land stewardship network. This will be divided in three groups: a network of municipalities, a network of private landowners and a network of schools. “So far, 54 municipalities have joined the network and SEO/BirdLife hopes that many more will follow, as they are the main players who could involve local authorities and common people in biodiversity conservation actions”, said Beatriz Sánchez, responsible for the Alzando el vuelo Program.

Birds Helping People

People with Type 2 diabetes may soon get a very different treatment approach: A drug that helps control blood sugar via the brain — an idea sparked, surprisingly, by the metabolism of migrating birds. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved Cycloset. It’s a new version of an old drug called bromocriptine, used in higher doses to treat Parkinson’s disease and a few other conditions. But unlike its older parent, Cycloset is formulated to require a low, quick-acting dose taken just in the morning and at no other time of day. That timing provides a bump of activity in a brain chemical that seems to reset a body clock that in turn helps control metabolism in Type 2 diabetes, said VeroScience’s Anthony Cincotta, who led the drug’s development.

A Home Depot in northern Arkansas has someone new looking out for mice in the garden center. Someone with wings. A great horned owl flew inside of the Harrison store’s garden center during a January ice storm and built a nest atop a pallet of merchandise. Over time, two baby owls poked their heads out. One fell to its death, but the other survived. Now, the mother is gone but the surviving youngster has decided to stay, looking down on surprised customers shopping for flowers and paving stones. Since the garden center is open to the sky, the owl leaves, but always comes back, employees said. “He’s kind of our pet now,” said supervisor John Gallagher.

Birds and Aircraft

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will made its entire bird strike database available recently. Portions of the database have been publicly available since the information was first collected in 1990, but the public will now be able to access all of the database’s fields.

Harassing hawks is one small part of Steve Osmek ‘s job as the wildlife biologist at Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle, Washington. His job is to keep track of every animal that can run, fly, hop, crawl or glide around the airport, and figure out how to keep these critters out of the path of the giant hunks of steel and machinery that hurtle through every three minutes. Sea-Tac was the first airport to employ a wildlife biologist in 1977. He counted 108 incidents of wildlife hitting aircraft at Sea-Tac in 2008, up from 77 in 2007. The increase is a sign he’s doing his job right, he said. That’s because airlines don’t have to report wildlife strikes — they volunteer the information. Many strikes go unreported. How many strikes Osmek is able to record depends on how hard he works with airlines to gather data.

The “bird strike” issue became water-cooler fodder in January, when US Airways Flight 1549 went down in the Hudson River. Capt. Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, Flight 1549’s pilot, became a national hero for setting the Airbus down in the river with no casualties. Windshield- and wing-hitting birds like mourning doves, gulls and pigeons became something of a national scourge, although the FAA’s data shows it’s nothing new. What’s an airport to do? Why, hire a specialist, of course! That’s why the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport in North Bend, Ore., hired Filly — a border collie whose official title is their wildlife management canine. “She’s chased flocks of geese into the water,” said Bob Hood, the airport’s wildlife manager. “She’s really good at her job and she really likes her job.”

Denver International Airport (DIA) plans to spend almost $350,000 next year to minimize the probability of birds colliding with airplanes. DIA operations manager Mike Carlson says the money pays for federal wildlife officers who haze and harass birds to stay away from the airplanes’ paths. The airport last month topped the nation in the number of bird and wildlife collisions with airplanes last year with 318 accidents. Each collision can cost airlines more than $2 million in damages to planes.

Rare Bird News

A California condor that was among the first six members of the endangered species released to the wild in 2003 at Pinnacles National Monument has died at the Los Angeles Zoo of complications from lead poisoning. Pinnacles wildlife biologist Jim Peterson said No. 286 died Monday after zoo officials worked for more than a month to remove lead from his bloodstream. He had lost more than half of his 24-pound body weight. The condor was poisoned by ingesting lead ammunition used by game hunters. Biologists found the bird also had multiple birdshot wounds, although that did not contribute to the poisoning.

An idyllic stretch of beach in Indonesia has been sold — not to developers but to protect an endangered bird species, and it only cost $12,500 to acquire the exotic address. The 36-acre parcel on the island of Sulawesi has become a protected nesting habitat for the endangered maleo, Macrocephalon maleo, which buries and incubates its eggs in the warm sand. Maleos — about the size of chickens with black backs, pink stomachs and yellow facial skin — are found only on Sulawesi. Like many birds and sea turtles, maleos have been targeted by poachers for their eggs. “Protecting this beach is just the first step in what will soon be a comprehensive conservation project for the benefit of the maleo,” said Noviar Andayani, who works in Indonesia for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Fewer than 100 nesting sites still exist throughout the bird’s entire home range, so every one counts.”

Like many countries, Australia is trying to juggle environmental protection with economic growth. A government decision to ban logging to protect a rare parrot has prompted arguments that hundreds of workers will lose their jobs. The superb parrot (pictured here) is a striking-looking bird found in woodland areas of Australia’s southeast. The color of bright green grass, the parrot is under threat from land clearing and lack of new growth in its woodland habitat. The Australian government wants to protect the species by banning logging in wetlands near the New South Wales town of Deniliquin, 725 kilometers southwest of Sydney. The area is a key breeding site.

The first Bermuda Petrel, Pterodroma cahow, chick to be born on Nonsuch Island, Bermuda, for almost 400 years, has recently hatched, the result of a successful translocation program. “The birth of this chick is an extraordinary achievement for those who have dedicated their lives to saving this rare bird from the brink of extinction”, said Glenn Blakeney, the Bermuda Minister of the Environment and Sports. Bermuda Petrel (also known as the Cahow) once numbered in the tens of thousands before the island’s discovery by the Spanish in the early 1500s.

H5N1 Avian Influenza and other Avian Zoonotics News

UK Researchers are now reporting that the H5N1 Avian Influenza may not have been as threatening to humans as was originally believed because our noses are too cold for the virus to thrive. A re-creation of the environment of the nose done by Imperial College London shows that at 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit the avian flu viruses lose the ability to function and spread. It is quite possible that the viruses have adapted to withstand the warmer 104 degree environment in the bowels of birds.

Turkey and India confirmed their first cases of H1N1 flu recently, all involving air passengers arriving from the United States. Thirty-eight countries have now confirmed cases of the new flu strain, a mix of swine, human and avian viruses, which last month prompted the World Heath Organization to raise its global pandemic alert level to 5 on a 6-point scale. The western Japanese city of Kobe said it would close some public schools for a week after eight people were confirmed as being infected with the new H1N1 influenza, commonly known as swine flu.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 17 May 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.

Bird Cams

According to an employee at the WAMU building in Seattle, there is a Peregrine Falcon chick with its parent on the WAMU nest platform.

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].

Recently, BirdLife International and the RSPB, with the support of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, launched their new study at an event held in Brussels. The study ‘Could do Better, How is EU Rural Development Policy delivering for biodiversity’ reviews the potential effects on biodiversity of the 2007-2013 Rural Development Programs across the European Union — and underlines the need for fundamental agriculture policy reform for the post 2013 period [free PDF]

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.

Here’s an intriguing “weird hybrid warbler” that you all may wish to identify, photographed recently in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, Washington.

Miscellaneous Bird News

On a Jacksonville Florida beach full of birds that fly thousands of miles, there was one Thursday that was really far from home. Bird enthusiasts at Huguenot Memorial Park said they discovered a greater sand-plover, a shorebird from Asia documented in the Western hemisphere only one other time. “This guy should be in Hong Kong,” said Duval Audubon Society president Carole Adams, one of the birders who spotted and identified the plover. This is a first-ever in your lifetime [experience]. … We just could not believe it. We were jumping up and down, we were so excited.”

Sometimes you just don’t have to go any farther than your own backyard to enjoy some of the most beautiful birds the Rio Grande Valley has to offer. The author of this piece has an old wooden feeder in his backyard that has been around for years, and he has noticed lately that the weathered platform has become a popular gathering spot for a variety of colorful parrots.

Normally, I abhor advertising products that other people sell and earn money from on my blog for free (I need the money at least as badly as they do, and probably worse) but in this case, I’ll make an exception for the Nest Box wireless infrared camera. This remarkable camera is able to transmit both image and sound (4 channels for some tweeting surround sound) and operates at a range up to 100m/328ft with 368,000 pixels of bird watching resolution, all powered by either a battery or plug-in socket. It’s sort of like watching Big Brother or one of those ridiculous reality shows, but with better content and educational value. Keep in mind that I am not endorsing this company, and I certainly am not paid to mention their product here, I am just indulging in wishful thinking!

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The Fine Print: Thanks to 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
    May 21, 2009

    What a great picture! How close to Hyacinths are Lears, genetically?

  2. #2 paula
    May 27, 2009

    Thanks for covering the Furadan issue – it seems that bans of Furadan in USA, EU and now possibly Canada are leading FMC to push it to places in Africa, Asia and South America. We are fighting them in Kenya as Furadan is used to kill birds, predators, even fish (for human consumption!) – please read our blogs on this issue and give our scientists some moral support (http://stopwildlifepoisoning.wildlifedirect.org). Thanks

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