Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 183

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Fiji (MacGillivray’s) Petrel, Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi, off Gau Island, Fiji.
Fiji Petrel Pelagic Expedition, May 2009.

Image: H. Shirihai, Tubenoses Project [larger view].


Birds in Science News

Maori legends told of a giant predatory bird called the Te Hokioi, whose wingspan approached the length of a full-grown man and whose prey included human beings. Now Kiwi scientists are adding to the legend by claiming that a skeleton found in the 1870s shares some of the legendary bird’s traits. “We don’t think it carried off men and women but it could well have carried off children,” says Paul Scofield, who along with colleagues at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand published a report in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology indicating that the extinct Harpagornis moorei swiftly evolved wings 3 metres across and weighed in at 18 kilograms, twice the size of today’s largest living eagle, soon after its arrival on New Zealand’s South Island.

People Hurting Birds

The dead bodies of 150 protected birds have been found on the Mediterranean island of Malta as activists search what they call a “major crime scene”. Conservation groups have criticised the Maltese government for failing to halt illegal hunting of protected birds during the island’s autumn season. Malta’s government has previously said it would take action against anyone found to be killing protected species. The outrage is growing.

The appropriately-named “Syncrude” Canada Ltd pleaded not guilty recently to charges in the deaths of more than 1,600 ducks in a toxic waste pond in 2008, a case that heightened international concern about the environmental impact of developing Canada’s vast oil sands. After a brief court appearance in St. Albert, Alberta, just outside Edmonton, Syncrude officials declined to divulge their crybaby details of the company’s defense in the high-profile case, in which the waterfowl were unnecessarily coated in oil and sank and died a horrible death due to drowning and hypothermia.

In a verdict delivered on 10 September, the European Court of Justice (ECJ, case C-76/08) declared that Malta has breached European law by allowing spring hunting of Turtle Dove, Streptopelia turtur, and Common Quail, Coturnix coturnix, in the years 2004-2007. BirdLife International and BirdLife Malta welcomed the ruling as it shows that this practice jeopardizes the conservation of these species, which have been classified by BirdLife as being in unfavourable conservation status in Europe. As a consequence, BirdLife concludes spring hunting has to end permanently. Hunting in autumn can continue for these and 30 other species in Malta, under certain conditions laid out in the EU Birds Directive.

Rare and Endangered Birds News

The Japanese White-eye bird, introduced to Hawaii in 1929, is out-competing many of the state’s native and endangered birds for food, says a study published recently in the journal Current Biology. In 2002, scientists began noticing that juveniles of the endangered Hawaii Akepa were disappearing at an alarming rate. “That was the warning sign,” says Leonard Freed a zoologist at the University of Hawaii Manoa, who led the study. Further research, conducted in the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on the island of Hawaii, revealed that the juvenile birds that remained were runts. They were smaller in size and had shorter beaks than a typical juvenile. Even adult birds had less fat and broken bills and feathers — symptoms that indicated they weren’t getting enough food.

Thunderstorms and the loss of shoreline habitat combined to reduce the hatch success of two bird species on the Missouri River system this summer. Areas along the river and reservoir system from Sioux City, Iowa to Fort Peck, Montana, are designated as critical habitat for the Piping Plover, a threatened species, and the interior Least Tern, an endangered species. The Army Corps of Engineers is required under a 2003 Amended Biological Opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide nesting habitat for the birds, which nest on sandy shorelines and sandbars. The corps monitors them during their summer stay, using 30-40 seasonal employees who count adult birds, nests, eggs and chicks. “It was a poor year for both species, both from a standpoint of the number of adults and the number of fledglings,” said Greg Pavelka, wildlife biologist at Yankton and manager of the corps’ plover and tern monitoring program.

A group of researchers in Fiji has captured images of an endangered and elusive seabird, the first confirmed sighting of the chocolate-colored creature at sea [see featured image above]. Scientists photographed the Fiji petrel soaring above the ocean about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Fiji’s remote island of Gau in May, according to the Britain.-based conservation group BirdLife International, which helped fund the expedition. The researchers’ findings were described in a paper published in this week’s Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club. “Finding this bird and capturing such images was a fantastic and exhilarating experience,” the paper’s lead author, Hadoram Shirihai, said in a statement.

Through most of the last century, Javan hawk eagles, Spizaetus bartelsi, flew unnoticed through the dwindling forests of Indonesia’s principal island of Java. Their prominent head crest and multi-toned plumage didn’t attract attention, bird markets didn’t sell them, nor did zoos have them on display. Then in 1993 the Indonesian government awarded Javan hawk eagles special protected status. That’s when the bird’s fortune turned — for the worse. In a study published earlier this year in the conservation journal, Oryx, researchers from the University of Amsterdam’s zoological museum concluded that ever since the Indonesian government officially labeled Javan hawk eagles as rare and precious, illegal poaching has removed the birds from the wild at an ever-escalating pace. Over the period from 1975 to 1991, just three were sighted for sale in Indonesian markets; in recent years 30 to 40 of the eagles have been spotted in markets annually. Story includes slide show.

Bird Watching News

Kenn Kaufman, an internationally renowned birding authority, naturalist, and author, knows diversity when he sees it in the bird world, and that in part is why he is troubled with a lack of diversity in the birding world. “When you’re into birds and nature, you think of diversity as a good thing,” began Kaufman during an interview last week. “Seeing 20 warblers is better than just one or two.” So over time, he began to wonder why so many minorities were all but invisible among participants in birding and indeed other outdoors activities. “I just wondered, ‘Why?’ Is there something we’re doing to keep others out? It was disturbing. I’d never belonged to an organization that actively excluded any people,” Kaufman noted, adding that certainly includes any bird clubs. “But somehow we are not appealing to broad groups of people.”

Ohio birders hit the jackpot when a Northern Wheatear — a perky, buff-breasted Arctic thrush — appeared as if by magic in Holmes County on Saturday. It was the state’s third-ever wheatear, and the first since 1998, according to the Ohio Bird Records Committee. News of the discovery crackled like lightning across the state via cell phones and Internet posts.

British birdwatchers are heading to the Kent coast after reports of a sighting of a Pacific seabird never before seen in the UK, ornithology experts said today. The sighting of the Tufted Puffin was reported to birdwatching information service Birdguides, after the bird was apparently seen in the Oare Marshes nature reserve on the Swale estuary. If verified, it will be the first time the puffin, which is found in the Pacific and is recognisable by its thick red bill and yellow tufts, has been seen in the UK, and possibly the first time in Europe.

Captive Birds News

A celebrity pet parrot attacked a police officer after its owner was pulled over for driving with the bird on her shoulder. The bird starred in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl alongside Johnny Depp. Police in Dover, England pulled over and arrested the female driver for allowing the bird to fly around inside the car while she drove. GrrlScientist comment: Note that the story includes an image that depicts a much smaller imposter parrot — a quaker parrot — of a totally different species than the parrot — a blue-and-yellow macaw — whom this story is actually about! What happened to your fact checkers?

Avian Zoonotics and Diseases News

Thousands of dead birds are showing up along the shore of the Great Salt Lake. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources estimates that 20,000 to 50,000 birds have died so far this year from avian botulism, a toxin that periodically plagues birds at the lake. Biologists say the outbreak ramped up in early August and is expected to last into the fall. State wildlife disease expert Leslie McFarlane says this year’s outbreak is considered moderate. A similar episode in 1997 killed about a half-million birds around the lake.

Cramped living quarters on college campuses increase students’ chances of being infected with all kinds of flu, but scrupulous hand hygiene and simple face masks may help some stay healthy, at least until H1N1 influenza vaccines become available next month, health experts say. Last week, U.S. colleges and universities reported a 21 percent increase in new cases of influenza-like illness, or 6,432 cases, at 253 schools tracked by the American College Health Association. So far this academic year, there have been 13,434 reported cases of flu-like illness, most of which are presumed to be swine flu because seasonal flu has not gotten under way. Many schools have just begun classes.

Farmers are set to get better access to clean drinking water amid fears that groundwater might be contaminated by leachate, liquid that drains from landfills containing the carcasses of poultry culled during an outbreak of avian influenza in 2003, the environment and agriculture ministries announced yesterday. The Korean government has already set up tap water pipelines within a three-kilometer (1.86-mile) radius of 343 villages affected by avian influenza across the country. The project has cost 68.2 billion won ($56.53 million) so far. It said it intends to finish setting up taps in other areas by next month.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 20 September 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. This issue has a bunch of books that I want to read and review on my blog — maybe you’ll also want to add these birds to your personal library?

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

Although folks often associate dragonflies and damselflies with the heat of summer, many species are still alive and well into late fall. This Week at Hilton Pond takes a photographic look at some of these “autumn odonates” and discusses their taxonomy, morphology, and behavior. While there, please scroll down for a list of all birds banded and recaptured during the period, as well as some miscellaneous nature notes about a record-setting Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a plague of mosquitoes, and a worn-out Eastern Tufted Titmouse.

I usually do not link to blogs, but in the case of Winston the pigeon, I will make an exception.

Last Issue : : Birds in the News : : Archives

The Fine Print: Thanks to TravelGirl, Ellen, Bill, 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 Cuttlefish
    September 21, 2009

    Under “Miscellaneous”, you missed out on the story of Winston the pigeon, in South Africa.

    http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2009/09/winston-pigeon.html