Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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A once-in-a-lifetime photograph of a Common (Eurasian) Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis.

Image: orphaned [larger view].


Birds in Science

For centuries, scientists have puzzled over why the toucan’s bill is so remarkably large — but now one team thinks it might have an answer. The researchers say that the toucan uses its enormous beak to stay cool. They used infrared cameras to show the bird dumping heat from its body into its bill, helping it to regulate its body temperature. The toucan has the largest bill of any bird, relative to body size. It makes up about one-third of its total body length. Link includes video.

The early bird may get the worm, but the message doesn’t seem to have reached those those living in cities and towns. During the winter, robins and blackbirds started visiting bird feeders in urban areas later than their rural counterparts, research shows. Experts at the British Trust for Ornithology believe the extra warmth in urban areas, largely as a result of heat escaping from buildings, helps them keep warm in the winter months. Therefore, they do not need to start feeding as early in the morning to replace energy lost overnight maintaining body heat.

People Hurting Birds

Two Washington State Patrol troopers are under investigation following allegations they clubbed three juvenile seagulls to death on the roof of the Colman Dock ferry terminal, authorities said. State Fish and Wildlife Department agents launched an investigation recently, following a report from the State Patrol that the troopers were seen beating the young gulls with police batons the day before, said Bruce Bjork, chief of department’s enforcement division. A State Patrol spokesman said the troopers have been placed on leave pending the investigation’s outcome. GrrlScientist comment: Sack the bastards and throw the book at them, I say. Do we really want people who behave like this working in law enforcement?

Police said 150 birds were seized recently in a canary-fighting investigation in Shelton, Washington. Police said canaries and saffron finches were seized and 19 people were arrested at a Ripton Road address. “There was 100 canaries fighting, and they were betting on them ’til they were dead. It’s absolutely shocking,” said neighbor Marion Sega. Police said they served a search warrant at the home after receiving a tip that an illegal bird fight involving 150 canaries and finches was scheduled to take place soon. Canaries are popular beginner pet birds and saffron finches, another small species of bird, can be spiteful and intimidating.

Federal wildlife wardens have granted a Waller County airport permission to kill up to 2,400 birds a year to reduce the danger of collisions with aircraft, stirring a new round of criticism from conservationists. The permit allows the 2-year-old Houston Executive Airport to kill 13 species of migratory birds, including geese, egrets and sandhill cranes, in an effort to ensure aircraft safety. Bird advocates argue that the permit confirms their decades-old position that the Katy Prairie, Texas, a popular stopping point for migratory birds on the central flyway, is not the right place for an airport. “Why put an airport in a place full of migratory birds?” said attorney Jim Blackburn, who represented a citizens group that had opposed the development of the airport near wetlands and wildlife preserves. “They will kill thousands of birds, but the problem won’t go away.”

Black Swans, which originate in Australia, have escaped from private collections in Britain and are now breeding at dozens of sites across the country. The number of locations at which the birds are found has more than doubled in the past five years, while the number of breeding sites has more than tripled, new research from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has found. Because they are more aggressive than other species, there are fears they may “out compete” white — or mute — swans for food and habitat in many areas. They could also breed with Mute Swans — a hybrid has been created in captivity called a Blute Swan. Black swans are also thought to be more aggressive to humans than other species.

People Helping Birds

Mountaintop-removal/valley-fill mining results in the complete removal of the top of a mountain in order to reach hidden coal seams. Millions of tons of dirt and rock that formerly composed the mountaintop are dumped into surrounding valleys, burying streams and their aquatic life forever, and impacting headwaters that supply drinking water for millions of people. More than 1,200 miles of streams and river valleys in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee have been turned into barren moonscapes by mountaintop mining activities so far, and more is planned. Furthermore, mountaintop mining significantly harms Cerulean Warbler populations. Sign an online petition to ask your senators to co-sponsor HR 696 that will stop the destructive practice of mountaintop mining.

An Osprey, with striking golden eyes and a wingspan estimated at 5 feet, dove into a murky lake near Seattle, possibly for a fish. But the raptor was trapped in the water, tangled with another fisherman’s line. The line was wrapped around its neck, the hook embedded in its wing, and some discarded fishing line was tangled around its legs. Seizing the large bird, Chuck Needham used nail clippers to cut the line away from the osprey. “It was dead by that time,” said Needham. “It was gone. It just had no life to it.” So he decided to try some mouth-to-beak respiration while massaging the bird’s throat and chest. “I cupped its head in my left hand and turned its beak toward me and breathed into its beak. I gave it about five or six deep breaths and, all of a sudden, it started coughing up water and foam and perked up a little bit. That was a special moment. It was like, ‘It’s all right! It’s going to make it!’ ”

Birding News

A recent survey by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that most birders are — surprise! — in their 50s, female and well-educated. According to their definition, a birder is a person who either traveled a mile or more to watch birds, or someone who watched and tried to identify birds around the home. By those standards, 48 million Americans — or about 21 percent of us over age 16 — are birders.

A real-time, online checklist program, eBird was launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. eBird’s goal is to maximize the utility and accessibility of the vast numbers of bird observations made each year by recreational and professional bird watchers. It is amassing one of the largest and fastest growing biodiversity data resources in existence. For example, in 2006, participants reported more than 4.3 million bird observations across North America.

Last week, birding counselor Dave Jasper and the kids from the Camp Chiricahua were hiking down Miller Canyon in Southern Arizona when all of the sudden they heard something they weren’t supposed to. It was a brown-backed solitaire, a thrush common in Mexico, but one that has never been documented north of the border. Jasper and friends verified their finding using an iPhone — which could only have happened in this “connected” day and age.

Captive Bird News

After four days on the lam, a missing parrot from the Philadelphia Zoo was back at Bird Lake today for a bath, a bite to eat and a reunion with its flock. “It’s in very good condition,” said Andrew Baker, the zoo’s chief operating officer. Baker reported that, a couple of days earlier, a family from Phoenixville had spotted the Sun Conure in a tree while walking near Lemon Hill mansion in Fairmount Park. When the family called out to it, the bird flew down and landed on an outstretched hand — a blur of red and green, yellow and blue. The family, which Baker declined to identify, took the bird home and cared for it. Yesterday, when family members saw news reports of the disappearance, they called the zoo. Officials picked up the bird today.

Rare and Endangered Birds News

For the first time in more than a century, a Common Guillemot, Uria aalge — also known as Common Murre — egg has been discovered south of the Canadian border on the east coast of the United States. The egg boosts hopes for the success of valiant efforts to restore the species. “We are absolutely elated”, said Dr Stephen Kress, Director of Audubon’s (BirdLife in the U.S.) Seabird Restoration Program. “The return of the Common Murre to its long-lost nesting grounds shows that conservation works — even against great odds”.

One of the rarest birds in North Africa and the Middle East has received a conservation boost from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. Once revered by the Egyptian Pharaohs, Northern Bald Ibis, Geronticus eremita, has become extinct in the majority of its former range in North Africa, the European Alps and the Middle East, and is now listed as Critically Endangered the highest threat level of extinction. However, ongoing conservation efforts will now benefit from a three year grant from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

Avian Zoonotics and Disease News

Penguins and malaria are not two organisms you would normally associate with each other, yet biologists have found the malaria parasite in an endangered species of the black-and-white waddlers. Iris Levin of the University of Missouri at St Louis and her colleagues took blood samples from 362 Galapagos penguins — already listed as being threatened with extinction — on nine islands in the Galapagos archipelago.

Michigan’s Potter Park Zoo’s popular new exhibit, Wings from Down Under, has reopened with a clean bill of health from zoo veterinarians. The exhibit has been closed since June 25 when several birds became ill and later died due to a disease called psittacosis, which is also known as parrot fever or ornithosis. “To ensure the safety of our visitors, we immediately closed the exhibit to determine the cause of death,” said Dr. Tara Harrison, zoo veterinarian and animal curator. “Once a diagnosis had been reached all of the birds immediately began receiving treatment.”

West Nile Virus has been identified in Eastern Washington state and in Contra Costa County in California.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 26 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

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

The Hilton Pond naturalists just returned from a lengthy trip to northern California where, among other places, they visited the adult home of John Muir at Martinez. Muir was a giant among American conservationists who deserves credit for helping get the ball rolling on our national park system. To read about Muir’s accomplishments and to view some images of the John Muir National Historic Site, please visit their This Week at Hilton Pond photo essay for 1-14 July 2009. Please also scroll down after the essay to see a list of birds banded during the first week of the month and to read some other nature notes.

Last Week : : Birds in the News : : Archives

The Fine Print: Thanks to 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 Pierce R. Butler
    July 28, 2009

    Spectacular image at the top of this post (a link to which I intend to use as a nonverbal comment to innumerable blog entries for the indefinite future)!

  2. #2 Amy
    August 5, 2009

    The canary seizure was in Shelton, CT, not Washington, I’m ashamed to report as a Connecticut resident.