Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 182

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Sandwich Tern, Sterna sandvicensis, photographed at the Bolivar Ferry, Texas.

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 4 August 2009 [larger view].


Birds and Technology

Rather than searching for weird weather or enemy missiles, some satellites are helping researchers to track — and predict — the spread of deadly diseases. With the pandemic spread of H1N1 swine flu and the continued advance of the H5N1 avian flu, scientists are anxious to better predict the spread of infectious diseases and are looking for new tools wherever they might be — even if that’s hundreds of miles in the sky. “Ideally we could predict conditions that would result in some of these major outbreaks of cholera, malaria, even avian flu,” says Tim Ford of the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. Ford and a group of experts have co-authored a perspective paper [free PDF], due out next month in Emerging Infectious Diseases, that proposes making use of environmental data — tracked via satellite — to predict disease outbreaks.

Wind Power

I know they’re not birds, but a new study has found that letting wind turbines idle at low wind speed can substantially reduce bat mortality from turbines. Between 1997 and 2006, wind energy increased tenfold in installed capacity worldwide to meet a growing demand for clean energy. Unfortunately, some wind farms kill bats in large numbers, especially facilities with newer, taller turbines. In some areas bat fatalities outnumber bird kills by as much as 10 to 1. High rates of bat fatalities are particularly problematic because bats are long-lived animals that reproduce slowly making it more difficult for them to recover from population declines.

People Hurting Birds

A 67-year-old gun-toting idiot is accused of using a BB gun to kill the family pet of 20 years — an African grey parrot named “Mikey” — because the creature annoyed him while he watched a NASCAR race. The Randolph township’s animal control officer has charged Dennis Zeglin with several counts of animal cruelty related to the alleged, June 7 shooting of Mikey. Zeglin’s wife summoned police to the house, and they were met outside by Zeglin’s adult son, who told them he covered the bird with a sheet and took it outside where he intended to bury it. The bird, instead, was autopsied by a veterinarian.

A mouth-breathing moron has shot a Trumpeter Swan with an arrow in Alaska. As word of the incident spread recently, Jeff Bryden, lead law enforcement officer for the 5.5-million-acre Chugach National Forest, drove to Tern Lake for a look. “The swan is still swimming,” Bryden said early Friday night. “We’ve got no leads, no suspects — and I have no idea of how you’d catch the swan. It can swim a lot faster than we could get up to them.” If a shooter was located, that person could face federal charges including shooting waterfowl out of season, Bryden said.

Exxon Mobil Corp. pleaded guilty in federal court in Denver to killing at least 85 protected waterfowl, hawks and owls in five states over the past five years, the Department of Justice announced recently. The birds died from exposure to natural gas well reserve pits and waste water storage facilities at Exxon Mobil drilling and production facilities in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming between 2004 and 2009. Under the plea agreement reached with DOJ, the company will pay $600,000, as well as make changes to prevent related deaths in the future. Exxon told the court it has already spent $2.5 million on the effort.

American Bird Conservancy has petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the import of crops containing any residues of 13 pesticides that are banned or restricted for use in the United States. These pesticides are highly toxic to birds, but are commonly used on crops throughout Latin America where many species of U.S. migratory birds spend the winter months. In addition to the environmental risks to birds, several of these chemicals also pose a risk to agricultural workers. “Allowing residues of these hazardous pesticides on imported food gives tacit U.S. approval to foreign countries to use chemicals that are known to be deadly to U.S. migratory birds,” said Dr. Michael Fry, American Bird Conservancy’s Director of Conservation Advocacy. “EPA has an obligation under Executive Order 13186, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Endangered Species Act to ensure that migratory birds are not harmed.”

llegal wildlife traffickers in Argentina are bleaching the plumage of common parrots and passing them off as their rarer and more valuable cousins. Wildlife groups say the burrowing parrot, a breed that inhabits most of the country’s territory, is being captured in large numbers and dyed in order to give it the appearance of a much rarer Amazon species that can fetch at least double the price on the thriving black market. The bird, which has an olive green back, blue wings and a yellow belly with a red stain, is given a hydrogen peroxide bath to give it the appearance of a blue-and-yellow macaw, which has a much higher price tag of up to $530. They are then sold at fairs in Buenos Aires and elsewhere as part of an illegal trade in exotic wildlife worth millions of dollars annually.

The true scale of illegal killings of birds of prey remains unknown, according to RSPB Scotland. Latest figures show 28 confirmed cases of illegal pesticide abuse killing or threatening birds of prey, including sea eagles. And, 42 illegally set poisoned baits were found in Scotland’s countryside. The charity said, because many of the incidents happened in remote areas, the number confirmed was likely to be a “tiny fraction” of those killed. Red kite, peregrine, buzzard and hen harrier were among raptors killed, or found to have disappeared from known sites.

A Tanzanian Government Agency is seeking to buy mining equipment for large-scale soda ash extraction from Lake Natron — the most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingo, Phoeniconaias minor [Near Threatened] in the world. “This is worrying indeed”, said Lota Melamari, the CEO of Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania.The Tanzania Investment Center, a Tanzanian Government Agency, is inviting interested parties to quote for the “Supply of machinery and equipment, as well as trucks in a greenfield soda ash/caustic soda processing plant”. The advert was placed on behalf of KDCL Minerals (T) Ltd – a private company which states that the $US 125 million project at Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania will produce approximately 200,000 tonnes of soda ash annually.

Residents in the Indian city, Chandigarh, who seek a sanitized, urban existence, seem to be losing their understanding of nature. They appear to be forgetting that while the ecosystem brings its rewards for us all, it also seeks some cooperative interaction. This becomes clear when one sees how people have been treating birds merely because their droppings litter terraces or car roofs. Volunteers of the NGO, People For Animals, say that some residents have been resorting to use of sticks and air rifles to shoo away birds and also bursting crackers to make them leave. PFA’s founder trustee Payal Sodhi said the NGO had reported such cases to the wildlife department. Government officials had consequently issued a notice to penalize such activities under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

People Helping Birds

The Pilchuck Audubon Society initiated the Vaux’s Happening project in Monroe (Washington) to make the public aware of one of the few remaining spectacular wildlife migrations in North America and to block the Monroe School District’s threat to tear down the Frank Wagner Elementary School, where the birds roost and nest. They conduct counts/observations every evening during migration at the two largest roost sites in Washington, and they have a public festival in the town of Monroe on Saturday, 12 September 2009. If I still lived in Seattle, I’d be there! If you attend and have images, video or stories to share, please send me the links and I’ll feature them on my blog.

September fifth is International Vulture Awareness Day. This day was organized to raise public awareness of this vital group of birds and the range of threats they face in many areas of the world where they occur. Populations of many species are under pressure and some species are facing extinction. The International Vulture Awareness Day has grown from Vulture Awareness Days run by the Birds of Prey Working Group in South Africa and the Hawk Conservancy Trust in England, who decided to work together and expand the initiative into an international event. It is now recognized that a co-ordinated international day will publicize the conservation of vultures to a wider audience and highlight the important work being carried out by the world’s vulture conservationists. This website also includes a long list of organizations who will participate in International Vulture Awareness Day in 2009.

Marsh Harrier chicks have fledged at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s East Chevington reserve. It is the first confirmed breeding of the birds in the County since 1880. The Trusts is delighted, saying it confirms the success of reed beds on the reserve, in particular those at the Chibburn end of the site. These habitats are still developing following its return from opencast mining in the 1990s. Duncan Hutt, Head of Land Management at Northumberland Wildlife Trust said: “This is fantastic news for these magnificent birds and is a wonderful follow on from the successful breeding of the ospreys at Kielder after a 200 year wait.”

The island of Santiago, the fourth largest island in the Galapagos Archipelago, has been declared officially goat-free. Feral goats were released on the 226-square-mile island in the 1920s. The goat population exploded, and by the 1990s the goats had destroyed much of the shrub and tree vegetation in the sensitive highlands of the island. The destruction of wooded and forested areas was dramatic, leaving only short grasses over much of the island, which is home to nine species of Darwin’s finches, including the unique tool-using Woodpecker Finch, and to threatened species such as the Galapagos Rail and Galapagos Petrel. Damage to their habitat had put significant pressure on the populations of these species.

A new report on one of the world’s bird biodiversity hotspots in Peru finds that most of the species at greatest risk there currently have little or no protected habitat. Conservation groups now plan to use the report to guide land protection efforts in the region. “American Bird Conservancy and ECOAN are committed to conserving threatened species and their habitats in Peru, including the Marvelous Spatuletail, an amazing hummingbird found only in Peru, and the rare Long-whiskered Owlet,” said study co-author Hugo Arnal, American Bird Conservancy’s Director of International Sustainable Conservation. “This latest study will help guide future conservation work in the Marañon region to ensure the best results can be achieved with critical conservation dollars.” [more information; reports, photographs, video]

A new report released by BirdLife Malta highlighted how 2009 has been a remarkable year for breeding birds in Malta. The results of the ‘2009 Rare Breeding Bird Report’ [free PDF] showed that nine rare breeding species, most of which are relatively common in other countries, increased their overall distribution in the Maltese islands compared to 2008, with a further four species recorded breeding in 2009 but not recorded last year. “The results highlight how important the ban on spring hunting over the last two years has been for the rare breeding species in Malta. Although illegal hunting was widespread, especially in the south during spring migration, the hunting intensity was much lower over this period due to the ban. Yet, with spring hunting now banned, the biggest problem for rare breeding birds is illegal shooting during the rabbit hunting season opened on 1st June”, said Dr Andre Raine, BirdLife Malta’s Conservation Manager.

Endangered Birds News

The native American tribes of the lower Klamath River have since ancient times decorated themselves with condor feathers when they performed the dances designed to heal a world gone wrong. “It can soar the highest, so we figured that was the one to get our prayers to heaven when we were asking for the world to be in balance,” said Richard Myers, a member of the Yurok Tribal Council and a leader in the revival of the tribe’s world renewal ceremonies. Now the Yurok Tribe is using modern science in hopes of restoring condors, which have not soared above the northern coast of California since 1914. If they establish that condors can survive here, and get federal permission to introduce birds from a captive breeding program, it would be the first restoration of condors in the northern half of its historic range, and a stepping stone to condors soaring over Oregon and Washington.

BirdLife International is launching a global bid to try to confirm the continued existence of 47 species of bird that have not been seen for up to 184 years. The list of potentially lost birds is a tantalizing mix of species ranging from some inhabiting the least visited places on earth — such as remote islands and the western Himalayas — to those occurring in parts of Europe and the United States. “The mention of species such as Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Jamaican Petrel, Hooded Seedeater, Himalayan Quail, and Pink-headed Duck will set scientists’ pulses racing. Some of these species haven’t been seen by any living person, but birdwatchers around the world still dream of rediscovering these long lost ghosts”, said Marco Lambertini, BirdLife International’s chief executive.

Captive Birds News

Parrots International has released their formal position statement regarding the proposal to add 14 species of parrots to the US Endangered Species List. In short, they oppose this proposal, but the arguments they raise in their position statement makes for some very interesting reading.

Avian Zoonotics and Diseases News

A bald eagle was reintroduced to the wild recently, four months after being removed from a north Sarasota [FL] golf course where the bird was suffering from Avian Pox, the same disease that had killed its sibling. Nursed back to health at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, the eagle was released by former state Sen. Lisa Carlton in a noon ceremony at the T. Mabry Carlton Reserve. “It was a moving sight,” said Belinda Perry, manager of natural resources for Sarasota County. “The hood was taken off of it, and she kind of let it go off in the air, and off it went.”

A penguin problem as popped up at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Two of them have died over the past few weeks while several others are sick, and it appears that avian malaria is to blame. Ever since the new exhibit at the zoo opened in May with 20 Humboldt penguins, it’s been a hit. The little animals that stand about a foot and a half tall love to entertain, and families who pass by can’t get enough. So now, there are 18 penguins at the zoo. Fifteen remain on exhibit, but the other three are being treated behind the scenes — and the prognosis is good. Five of the older penguins still in the exhibit are undergoing drug treatment as a precaution.

For the first time a new study suggests that when exposed in their natural ecosystem, wild pikas (a species closely related to rabbits) are mammalian hosts of H5N1 subtype avian influenza viruses and may also be a source of transmission to domestic mammals and humJournal of Virology [abstract]. Wild birds are the known natural reservoirs for the H5N1 subtype avian influenza virus, however, researchers are unsure of their role in the spread of the virus to other free-ranging wild mammals within their natural habitats. Highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza viruses are now endemic in bird populations throughout Southeast Asia and 391 human cases, of which 60% were fatal, have been reported since 2003. Although human-to-human transmission has yet to occur, H5N1 viruses pose a serious public heath threat.

For most infectious disease experts around the world, including Ottawa medical officer of health Dr. Isra Levy, there is no doubt swine flu will return this fall and winter. The only question is whether the A/H1N1 influenza virus will mutate into a more deadly form or weaken and fizzle out. It is a guessing game, and no one knows for sure. The World Health Organization, however, says by the time H1N1 runs its course, two billion people, about 30 per cent of the world population, will be infected. Millions could die. Making vaccines available quickly is critical. “There is every reason to believe that when our schools and universities and other places reopen, and we’ve come back to our traditional flu season, the second wave of H1N1 virus will be more serious — unless we get really lucky,” says Dr. Brian Ward, an infectious disease specialist at McGill University in Montreal.

The A/H1N1 “swine” flu has been reported in India, Vietnam, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the South American country of Colombia (the president of Colombia!) and it’s also been found in domestic turkeys in Chile.

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.

Normally penguins are quite dapper. But Ralph, a penguin who lives at a wildlife center in England, wears a wetsuit. Unlike other penguins, he sheds all his feathers at once, which leaves him naked and at risk from sunburn. His new attire came about because this year Ralph became a father — and with two chicks to care for — he can’t hide inside during molting season. [streaming story]

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 (often) 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 and extensive comments for identifying that particular species.

Miscellaneous Bird News

Bill Hilton writes; “For most of our 60-plus years we’ve known about those magnificent big trees of the western U.S., but nothing we read or heard quite prepared us for our recent California trip when we got to witness first-hand the enormity of both Coast Redwoods and Giant Sequoias. These huge trees are awe-inspiring and, being upwards of 2,000 years old, have been around long enough to tell us something of value if we’ll just stop and listen. To view our photo essay about the biggest trees on earth, visit This Week at Hilton Pond for 22-31 July 2009. (We also include jelly fish and seahorse photos, plus some info about the California drought.) And please don’t forget to scroll down for a list of all birds banded at Hilton Pond when we returned from out west, as well as a note about our Hummingbird Silver Anniversary.”

A leading ornithologist and his seven-year-old son have drowned after a family boat trip ended in tragedy. Dr Michael Madders, 52, and Daniel died when their canoe capsized in bad weather. Daniel’s mother, Christine Cain, in her 40s, raised the alarm after she found their overturned boat on the shore.

Many of us are probably familiar with “The Incredible Journey,” the story of two dogs and a cat and their astonishing adventures as they traveled toward home. However, a recent news release from the Center for Conservation Biology, a research facility affiliated with the College of William and Mary, carried details of an even more amazing journey: the 8000+ mile journey undertaken by the Whimbrel named Hope.

Last Week : : Birds in the News : : Archives

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 Rob Goldstein
    August 31, 2009

    Thanks GrrlScientist for referencing a story on our site, Conservation Maven, about bat mortality from wind farms.

    We’re officially only 2 weeks old or so, and you’re the first site to reference one of our stories. It made our (my) day.

    Thanks again,
    Rob Goldstein

  2. #2 Zuri
    September 1, 2009

    The Galapagos Islands are the perfect location for birdwatching lovers. There are birds and other species not seen anywhere else on Earth.

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