Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Birdwatchers in southeastern Australia have been thrilled to see the arrival of about a third of the total national population of the highly endangered Swift Parrot, Lathamus discolor, on the Far South Coast.

Image: Max Sutcliffe, Narooma News [larger view].


Birds in Science

Bird deaths around the Baltic Sea and possibly elsewhere in the world may be caused by a shortage of the vitamin thiamine, researchers say. Wild birds of varied species along the Baltic coasts have been dying of hard-to-explain paralysis since at least 1982, says Lennart Balk of Stockholm University in Sweden. He and his colleagues have now studied the illness in three species with different life styles — herring gulls, common starlings and common eiders. Paralytic deaths in all three result from shortages of thiamine (vitamin B1), he and his colleagues report online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. GrrlScientist comment: Yes, I am trying to get a copy of this paper so I can tell you about it.

The deaths of billions of birds annually due to collision with window glass can be reduced through simple measures including dimming lights in buildings at night, landscaping changes, and using window coverings that make glass more visible to birds, reports a bird expert writing in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. Conducting experiment with different types of firm on plastics and glass, Daniel Klem Jr., an ornithologist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, found coverings that create visual “noise” can dramatically reduce bird-window collisions without drastically increasing costs or impeding visibility for humans relative to conventional glass. The most effective covering was a new exterior film with evenly spaced ultraviolet (UV)-reflecting and UV-absorbing patterns, which can be seen by birds but not humans. GrrlScientist comment: I am also trying to get a copy of this paper so I can share the findings with you.

Birds Hurting People

A tourist suffered slash wounds to his head when he was attacked by a buzzard while jogging in Cornwall, UK. Stuart Urquhart, who is from Westbury Park in Bristol, was holidaying in Helford with his family when he was attacked by the bird recently. The 36-year-old had gone for a morning run when the bird swooped from behind and attacked him with its talons. Mr Urquhart, a solicitor, was taken to Falmouth Minor Injuries Unit where he was given a tetanus injection. “I was jogging along a very quiet lane near the river at about 9am when I suddenly felt something on the back of my head,” said Urquhart. “I thought somebody had thrown some heavy sacking or carpet at me but I couldn’t see anyone. I carried on a few paces and then saw blood running down me and noticed a buzzard flying off into the trees.”

People Helping Birds

The Obama administration recently scrapped the Bush administration’s last-ditch attempt to boost logging in Northwest forests by scaling back protection for the northern spotted owl. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that a plan to increase logging on federal lands in Western Oregon could not stand up to challenges under the Endangered Species Act. He said the Department of Interior would develop new measures protecting the spotted owl. The Bush administration had cut the size of critical habitat for the owl and revised the spotted-owl recovery plan to make the logging increases possible.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would formally authorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Joint Ventures Program, which has been effectively carrying out bird conservation planning and projects since 1987. The Joint Ventures for Bird Habitat Conservation Act of 2009 was introduced by Congressman Frank Kratovil, the freshman Democrat representing the 1st district of Maryland. “This bill ensures that the land will be protected against development, and the health of the environment will be preserved,” said Kratovil. “These protections serve not only as environmental friendly initiatives but they build the local economy by protecting vital industries closely related to health of the Chesapeake Bay.”

A two-week old gosling was found with a broken leg, but vets did not have the heart to put it down. Instead, they decided to operate on the young creature, named Betty, to give her a bionic leg. She was fitted with steel pins, nuts and bolts to build a leg brace which soon got her back up and waddling around. The orphan, found at Watermead, Buckinghamshire, UK, has already learned to walk again at nearby Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital. Carers hope to release Betty back to the wild in three weeks.

Professional snipers have been brought in to guard a vulnerable colony of penguins in Australia. The deployment follows the mysterious deaths of nine of the flightless birds over the last two weeks. The mutilated bodies of the animals, known as fairy (little) penguins, were found in a national park near Sydney harbor. The main suspects are dogs and foxes. At 40cm tall, the world’s smallest penguin species is clearly no match for such aggressive enemies. To even up the fight, two snipers have been deployed as bodyguards. Story includes streaming video news report.

Rare Birds News

News from the Oregon Zoo about their breeding program for the endangered California Condor.

Australian birdwatchers have reported the arrival of up to 30 per cent of the total population of the highly endangered Swift Parrot in forests on the Far South Coast within the past fortnight. The small green Swift Parrot is among the most endangered parrots in the country with less than a thousand breeding pairs remaining. The species annually migrates between Tasmania and southeastern Australia but has dramatically declined in numbers because of habitat disturbance and an unfortunate habit of colliding into windows.

South America is blessed with one of the world’s most charismatic birds — one which sadly is in danger of disappearing forever. “Modern fishing methods are accidentally killing around 100,000 albatrosses globally every year — that’s one every five minutes”, said Dr Ben Sullivan, BirdLife’s Global Seabird Program Coordinator. However, South American fishermen are working alongside BirdLife staff to help save their favorite of birds, and early results of their united efforts are capturing global attention. “We love to watch albatrosses when we’re out at sea”, said Jorge Rivera Vergara, captain of the longline vessel Tami II of fishing company Pesquera Omega in Coquimbo, Chile. “It’s amazing to think these birds fly round the world for thousands of miles without landing and have wingspan of over three meters”. Sadly, 18 of the world’s 22 albatross species are facing extinction, with four of those species being classified as Critically Endangered according to BirdLife on behalf of the IUCN. In longline fisheries albatrosses die when they try to steal fish bait from hooks; in trawl fisheries they are killed when they birds collide with the fishing gear whilst trying to collect discarded fish.

Avian Zoonotics News

West Nile Virus has been identified in another region in California.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic is the fastest-moving pandemic ever and that it is now pointless to count every case. The United Nations agency, which declared a flu pandemic on June 11, revised its requirements so that national health authorities need to report only clusters of severe cases or deaths caused by the new virus or unusual clinical patterns.

It has become almost common wisdom that the virus that caused the 1918 flu pandemic was an avian strain introduced into the human population shortly before the pandemic erupted. But a new study disputes that hypothesis, arguing instead that genes of the 1918 virus had circulated in mammalian hosts, most likely pigs and humans, for several years before 1918. Multiple gene-swapping events brought them together in a single killer strain, say the researchers; improving surveillance in humans and in swine could alert scientists to such events early in the future.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 19 July 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 Publications News

Are you looking for ornithology papers? If so, then SORA is the search engine for you! SORA — for Searchable Ornithological Research Archive — allows you to search and browse 12 peer-reviewed ornithological journals — for free! Western Birds was recently added to SORA where it is permanently archived and fully searchable, and all but the most recent two volumes of Western Birds are available online at the site.

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

Europe’s oldest Altantic puffin is alive and well and living in Scotland. Bird ringers working for the British Trust for Ornithology were on an expedition to the Shiant Isles in the Minch when they rediscovered the 34-year-old bird. It was originally ringed on June 28, 1975. They also found a puffin which was originally tagged on June 27, 1977, by Ian Buxton, a member of this year’s team. The previous record for the oldest puffin in Europe was set by a 33-year-old Icelandic bird. David Steventon, founder of the Shiants Auk Ringing Group and a member of the original expeditions in the 1970s, said: “These longevity records were almost inevitable, as ringing data shows that adult survival rates are about 92%. Therefore we would expect that about 25 of the 441 birds ringed in 1975 will still be alive and could be recaught in 2009.”

Britain’s smallest bird has just hit the big time according to the results of the latest national survey published by the Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology. The Goldcrest may be a featherweight, at just eight and a half centimetres from the tip of its beak to the end of its tail and only half the weight of a Wren. But this hasn’t stopped it reaching an all-time high, since the trust, RSPB and Joint Nature Conservation Committee started the annual Breeding Bird Survey in 1994. The run of mild winters up to 2008 have helped greater numbers of the Goldcrest, a largely insectivorous bird, go on to breed the following spring.

BirdLife’s website is visited by over a million people every year, and is a fantastic resource for anybody interested in global conservation issues, and it is frequently cited by Birds in the News. They are looking to hear from anybody who’s been to BirdLife.org, whether it’s your first time to their site or if you’re a regular visitor. “We’re giving people the opportunity to have their say, and let us know what they like and dislike about our site”, announced Ade Long, BirdLife’s Head of Communications. They have devised a simple questionnaire for you to fill out that takes less than ten minutes of your life. Please help them by going there now to answer their questions, and be sure to mention that Birds in the News sent you there!

Some people might be stunned by the recent revelation that birdwatchers contributed a mind-blowing $36 billion to the United States economy in 2006. But Virginia Reynolds can only wonder: How much of it was hers? If you’ve traveled more than one mile to view birds — even birds as common as the American Goldfinch — you qualify as a birdwatcher. About 31 percent of Tennessee’s population qualify as birdwatchers, according to a report by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Bluebirds are among those viewed by those trying to fill out their birding checklists. “I seriously believe every word of that report,” said Reynolds, an avid birdwatcher and director of the Memphis Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. “A lot of birders start small and then spend and spend and spend once they get hooked.” The report, which was released last week by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, said one out of every five Americans is now considered a birdwatcher. That’s more than 48 million people in all.

Last Week : : Birds in the News : : Archives

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!

Comments

  1. #1 Robert
    July 20, 2009

    Do you have a link for NPR’s Birdnote? I haven’t found it on NPR’s website. Thanks.

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