Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 176

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Gyrfalcon chicks in 2500 year-old nest in Greenland. Gyrfalcons are the largest species of falcon in the world.

Image: Jack Stephens.

This edition of Birds in the News is dedicated to Bob, Asa, Neil and Biosparite in honor of their kind $upport. I deeply appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness.

Birds and Science

Why aren’t birds larger? Fifteen-kilogram swans hold the current upper size record for flying birds, although the extinct Argentavis of the Miocene Epoch in Argentina is estimated to have weighed 70 kilograms, the size of an average human. In a forthcoming article in PLoS Biology, Sievert Rohwer, and his colleagues at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, provide evidence that maximum body size in birds is constrained by the amount of time it takes to replace the flight feathers during molt.

The Nebraska Long-billed Curlew Satellite Tracking project is currently following two adult female Long-billed Curlews, Sandy and Bailey. Both curlews were outfitted with satellite transmitters in the Nebraska Panhandle on 19 May 2009. Last week, during a period of just three days, one of the curlews traveled across three states.

They may wear too much pink to fit in among macho fliers. But when male Anna’s hummingbirds swoop out of the sky, they pull more g’s than any known vertebrate stunt flier outside a cockpit, says Chris Clark of the University of California, Berkeley. During breeding season, the male hummingbirds soar some 30 meters and then dive, whizzing by a female so fast that their tail feathers chirp in the wind. As the birds pull out of their plunge to avoid crashing, they experience forces more than nine times the force of gravity. Story includes photographs and video.

A 2,500-year-old bird’s nest has been discovered on a cliff in Greenland (featured image, top). The nesting site is still continually used by gyrfalcons, the world’s largest species of falcon, and is the oldest raptor nest ever recorded.Three other nests, each over 1,000 years old, have also been found, one of which contains feathers from a bird that lived more than 600 years ago.

The skeleton of what scientists call a ‘parrot dinosaur‘ has been discovered in Mongolia. The dinosaur, a Psittacosaurus gobiensis, is believed to have been about 110 million years old. In a report published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, scientists said the parrot dinosaur was three feet long and lived on a diet of nuts and seeds.

A new dinosaur unearthed in western China has shed light on the evolution from dinosaur hands to the wing bones in today’s birds. The fossil, from about 160 million years ago, has been named Limusaurus inextricabilis. The find contributes to a debate over how an ancestral hand with five digits evolved to one with three in birds.

A new discovery about bird breathing abilities indicate birds probably didn’t descend from any known dinosaurs, according to researchers at Oregon State University. The scientists have been waging a lonely battle challenging the conventional scientific wis­dom that birds descend from dinosaurs known as theropods, an evolutionary group that included the famous Tyrannosaurus rex. Birds are believed to have descended from theropod dinosaurs similar to Guanlong wucaii, discov­ered in 2006. Birds more likely share a common ancestor with dino­saurs than descend from them directly, said John Ruben, a zoologist at Oregon State who participated in the new studies. “It’s really kind of amazing that after centuries of stu­dying birds and flight we still didn’t understand a basic aspect of bird biology,” said Ruben.

People Hurting Birds

The first check on the effects of a $3 million rat-poisoning campaign on remote Rat Island turned up no living rodents on the 10-square-mile island in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge — but 227 dead birds. Nine months after blanketing the island with compressed-grain pellets of Rodenticide, a seven-member survey team this week collected 186 glaucous-winged gull and 41 bald eagle carcasses. Most were juveniles, many in advanced stages of decomposition. Woods said it’s unlikely carnivorous eagles ate the rodenticide grain pellets, but they may have devoured some dead rats that had consumed them.

More environmental problems are coming to Exxon — this time in Kansas. The oil giant is facing criminal charges for unlawfully killing migratory birds in three Kansas counties. The federal charges stem from tanks and other facilities operated by Exxon or its agents in Kearney, Stevens and Morton counties in southwest Kansas. The complaint, filed in U.S District Court in Wichita recently, alleges the company killed “at least seven birds of inderminate species and three owls, which died after contact with hydrocarbons.” Hydrocarbons are often found in petroleum products and, according to Jim Mason with the Great Plains Nature Center, are extremely dangerous to birds. “It’s as bad for them as it would be for you or I if we drank raw petroleum,” Mason said.

The Florida Home Builders Association is asking the federal government to upgrade the status of an endangered bird its attorney calls an “albatross” for the state’s economy. The association wants the wood stork listed as threatened, not endangered. Habitat loss has forced the white wading bird to expand its foraging grounds from the Everglades into more developed parts of South Florida.

About 800 Canada geese around New York City’s two airports have been trapped and euthanized, part of an effort to reduce the type of bird strike that led to a jetliner landing in the Hudson River last winter. Birds have been culled from 15 sites within five miles of LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Carol Bannerman says agency biologists and other specialists are trapping and euthanizing the birds. Officials plan to kill 2,000 geese within weeks.

Police have confirmed that a Golden Eagle found dead in Argyll (UK) had been poisoned with insecticide. The bird of prey was found by walkers on the slopes of Beinn Udlaidh in the Glen Orchy area recently. They alerted the RSPB which then called in police. A major search of the area — including several buildings — was made 10 days later by officers from the wildlife crime unit and government scientists. Police have said they are following a positive line of inquiry. The dead eagle was examined by biologists and chemists from the Scottish Government’s Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture. They concluded that the bird had died from poisoning caused by toxic insecticide.

People Helping Birds

Members at a Kingston, UK, golf club are getting in a flap over a birdie that has taken up residence in the club grounds. When a bedraggled Walter the pigeon arrived at Coombe Wood Golf Club about five weeks ago, Phil Wright, long serving professional at the club, took a shine to him and nursed him back to life. Since then he has flocked to the pro shop every day to spend the day pottering around with his new friend. “It was love at first flight,” joked club employee Tony Stenson. “I think he’s fallen in love with him, he goes everywhere with him. He just sits there looking at him adoringly all day.”

A timber manager who had a tree with an eagle’s nest cut down in Clallam County Washington has been sentenced in Tacoma to two months in prison. At the recent sentencing in federal court, Magistrate Judge Karen Strombom said she had no choice but to send Timothy Allen to prison because he lied to investigators.

Rare Birds News

The Louisville Zoo is now home to a duckling of one of the world’s rarest species, which was abandoned after its egg was lain. Zoo bird curator Gary Michael said incidents of mothers dumping eggs outside the nest are not uncommon. When a zoo worker came across the egg, it was placed in an incubator immediately. The duckling, Gerry, is a member of the endangered Madagascar teal species, whose numbers have dwindled to only about 2,000 in the wild and 200 in zoos, said Kara Bussabarger, Louisville Zoo spokeswoman. “It’s the first time in the Louisville Zoo that we’ve ever had this bird hatching,” she said, “and we’ve been around for 40 years.” Story includes photographs of the bird (very cute).

The Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation (AWWP), located in the Arabian Gulf State of Qatar is pleased to announce the successful hatching of three critically endangered Spix’s Macaws, Cyanopsitta spixii. What makes this breeding success extra important is that it came from AWWP’s genetically most important pairing, including the genetically most important female in the international studbook managed population. The first two chicks hatched in late February and the third on the 2nd of March. All three hatched without complications in AWWP’s new bird nursery, which has three rooms exclusively for Spix’s Macaws; one for incubation, another for hand-rearing and an extra large room for fledglings, which includes a 10 meter long flight aviary.

The Lear’s macaw, a blue parrot found only in northeastern Brazil, is now an endangered species — and that’s a good thing. The global conservation organization that tracks threatened species downlisted the Lear’s macaw last week from “critically endangered,” the highest threat category, to “endangered.” “The bottom line is that conservation works,” said Steve Holmer, a spokesman for the American Bird Conservancy. “If we can secure the habitat and make it sustainable, it gives the species a chance.”

Several Pacific species are among a list of 31 of the world’s most imperiled birds that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is set to offer stronger protections to. The Service has agreed to offer protection to six species, with 25 others proposed for listing, in order to settle a lawsuit filed by a San Francisco environmental group. The Fish and Wildlife Service has promised to publish final listing determinations for the Chatham petrel; the magenta petrel and the Cook’s petrel in New Zealand; the Fiji petrel; the Galapagos petrel; and the Heinroth’s shearwater in Papua New Guinea.

The Australian Federal Government has temporarily banned logging of red gums in an area of state forest near Deniliquin over concerns about the danger posed by logging to the Superb Parrot. There are fewer than 5000 breeding pairs left in the wild of the Superb Parrot, which lives in the area and is listed as a vulnerable species. The Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett says the Federal government has told Forests NSW to stop logging in around half the available logging area, until an investigation of the area’s future is completed. The Government is concerned about the wetland, which is listed as “of international importance” for conservation reasons.

On Sado Island, off the coast of Niigata Prefecture, Japan, longtime residents can often be heard mournfully discussing the exodus to the mainland of young people seeking education and better employment prospects. But it is the exodus from the island of a number of rare crested ibises, an icon of Sado reintroduced to the wild after a nearly 30-year absence, that has more recently become a topic of conversation for locals. “I guess the younger ones just want to leave the island” and “this means the shortage of brides will become even more dire” were comments recently heard at a restaurant near Ryotsu Port, which serves as gateway to the island with a population of 65,000.

Influenza and other Avian Zoonotics News

As the influenza A (H1N1) virus spreads across the globe, scientists in India are worried over the possibility of the second wave of the pandemic being more virulent. “There is much more to this virus than we understand, and nobody knows how lethal it could be in future. Presently, the hot summer is at our rescue. During the rainy and winter season the virus is likely to spread in a big way,” senior epidemiologist Narendra Arora said.

Burial has been a key method of disposing birds in avian flu outbreaks across the world, but US researchers have now discovered that the virus could remain infectious for up to two years. The findings raise questions over current disposal methods, particularly in the US and Asia where hundreds of millions of birds have been culled and disposed of in landfill. During one outbreak on Virginia farms in 2002, four million birds were culled and buried. “There are a lot of birds at landfills,” said Shannon Bartelt-Hunt, an environmental engineer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “If you think of landfills as reservoirs, you could have birds as vectors.”

Just having been alive for a while could protect you from getting the novel swine flu circling the planet. In 1977, a type of H1N1 virus, commonly known as the “Russian flu,” spread across the world, infecting people under 25 at much higher rates than their elders, who had been exposed to similar viruses in the ’40s and ’50s. In the first documented American outbreak, 70 percent of the students fell ill at a high school in Cheyenne, Wyoming, while their teachers proved immune. As the Air Force Academy’s chief medical officer said in 1978, “It’s one of the advantages of being middle-aged.” Now, Leonard Mermel, an infectious disease specialist at Rhode Island Hospital, suggests the current flu virus could be similar enough to that ’70s strain that older people could again find themselves immune to a new virus. “It might be that the H1N1 circulating now (swine-origin influenza virus) has enough antigenic similarity to related H1N1 influenza strains of the past to protect older individuals exposed to them previously,” Mermel wrote in a letter to the journal The Lancet.

A dead bird found in Shasta County, CA, has tested positive for West Nile Virus at U.C. Davis. The savannah sparrow was retrieved in North Redding by the Shasta Mosquito and Vector Control District on June 4 and sent to the Davis lab for testing. West Nile Virus, which is spread by infected mosquitoes, has infected at least one person in Shasta County each year since 2004. The virus, though rare, can be fatal to humans.

Officials confirmed that a dead bird found in Modesto, CA, earlier this month tested positive for West Nile virus, the first for Stanislaus County this year. West Nile virus has been detected in 40 birds and 49 mosquito samples in 12 out of the state’s 58 counties this year. There have been no human infections. The infected bird was an American crow, which along with blue jays and yellow-billed magpies, are the species most often found infected.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 21 June 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

Here’s a Burrowing Owl nest site near Pasco, WA which is broadcast as part of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Wildwatch cam series. The site just began streaming video last week. Currently the site is live between 11:30 AM and nearly midnight and uses a full time infra-red camera. Over the next week or so the hours will be revised somewhat depending on the ability of the solar-powered batteries to handle the equipment. A camera capable of either visible and infra-red will be incorporated, hopefully, with live sound.

An eaglet near Stillwater has flown the nest with the world watching. For about six months, Bartlesville’s Sutton Avian Research Center has had a web camera trained on a bald eagle nest. It’s become an international hit. The OU Sutton Avian Research Center near Bartlesville is an education and conservation group that’s been around for 25 years. This year, a pair of bald eagles and an eaglet have become international stars. “I’m not surprised because really there are so many people out there that want there to be wildlife out there. They may not see it every day, but they want to know it’s out there,” said Sutton Center Executive Director Steve Sherrod. Story includes YouTube video of the eaglet’s fledging moment.

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.

Miscellaneous Bird News

When folks are out looking over nature, they often overlook clover — ubiquitous plants that despite being foreign and possibly invasive in North America play important roles from enriching soil to nurturing cattle to serving as host plants for butterflies and moths. In the most recent issue of This Week at Hilton Pond, they look closely at clover in their photo essay. After pondering clover’s eye-pleasing appearance and ecological significance, don’t forget to scroll down for a tally of all birds banded or recaptured during the period. And their miscellaneous nature notes include photos of the season’s first Trumpet Creeper flowers and a female House Finch that looked like a male — as well as a description of THREE banding milestones recently reached.

Something is powerfully affecting the birds wintering in northern Alabama, increasing the numbers of many, bringing new species and causing others to dwindle. Scientists don’t know whether it’s climate change, a recovery from the banned pesticide DDT or some mystery factor. Since the 1960s, the numbers of the birds in the reservoirs and refuges in northern Alabama have almost flip-flopped. Almost every species’ numbers are either climbing steeply or dwindling. And other birds are appearing for the first time. Pelicans, terns and gulls by the thousands now winter north of Birmingham. “When I was a boy growing up in Decatur, a gull, a pelican — those were all seashore birds,” said Keith Hudson, the state’s nongame biologist for the northern half of Alabama.

Two baby flamingos being hand-reared at London Zoo are causing surprise among staff because of their aversion to the color pink. Keepers found that the chicks, called Little and Large due to their size, dislike pink after introducing them to a pink sock puppet.The pair run away from the puppet and anything else pink-colored including the tray they splash about in. Keepers have been forced to use a specially sourced yellow tray instead. “They just don’t seem to like the color,” said Keeper Alison Brown, who is looking after the chicks. “Birds see in different color spectrums to humans — so there’s no logical reason for them not liking pink.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Scott, Gaylord, Joel, Carrie, Bob, Sam, TravelGirl, Bill, 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 Richard
    June 29, 2009

    Hi, could you clarify the copyright status of the books with RapidShare links. I’m generally wary of anything I see hosted at RapidShare for obvious reasons :)