Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Birds in the News 185

tags: , , , , ,

Zebra Finch, Poephila guttata.

Image: orphaned [larger view].


Birds in Science

Low-quality females prefer low-quality males, at least in the avian world. This is according to research published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B, testing female zebra finches’ taste in males. As adults, the low-quality females showed a preference for the songs of males of the same quality, and for the male birds themselves. Evolutionary biologists previously thought that females would always opt for the best male available.

A new research facility containing the world’s first hypobaric bird wind tunnel, which allows researchers to study avian flight while altering such variables as air pressure, moisture, humidity and altitude, has opened at The University of Western Ontario. The new 13,000-square-foot Advanced Facility for Avian Research (AFAR) is also home to cutting-edge laboratories devoted to learning how changes in the environment affect birds’ neural and physiological systems, and their reproduction and migration patterns. “The wind tunnel and other facilities are used to understand migration, reproduction and survival over winter, which are difficult to measure in nature,” says Scott MacDougall-Shackleton, the facility’s principal investigator.

Albatrosses associate with killer whales out in the open ocean, tiny cameras attached to the birds reveal. Unique pictures retrieved from the cameras placed on the albatrosses’ backs show the birds feeding alongside the killer whales, also known as orcas. The birds are thought to feed on food scraps left by the marine mammals. The discovery may explain how black-browed albatrosses find their prey in an apparently featureless open ocean, say the researchers. Black-browed albatrosses (Thalassarche melanophrys) travel hundreds of kilometres to locate and feed on their prey. [2:19 streaming audio]

Guillemots on Skomer Island, UK are at the forefront of a project to use computers to monitor vulnerable habitats. Computers watching the birds are recording key behaviour such as how long they spend at the breeding colony. Researchers hope to gather detailed information about changing behaviours and spot key trends. Seabirds such as guillemots (known as Common Murres in the US) are an indicator species that can give “early warnings” of habitat degradation or other environmental problems.

Archaeopteryx, long thought to be the first bird, was more likely a true dinosaur, researchers concluded after microscopic exams of fossil bones. In the Open Access journal PLoS One, a team led by Gregory Erickson of Florida State University and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, present thigh and shinbone sections from an Archaeopteryx fossil. “Dinosaurs had a very different metabolism from today’s birds. It would take years for individuals to mature, and we found evidence for this same pattern in Archaeopteryx and its closest relatives,” says Erickson, in a statement. Similar to tree rings, the study’s microscopic sections reveal that the growth rate of the ancient flyer was slow, taking years to mature like other dinosaurs, rather than within months, like a modern bird. [original research]

Birds and Aircraft

A project to restore a wildlife habitat in The Meadowlands has raised fears of increased bird strikes at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, which already has the highest rate of hits in the region. The Federal Aviation Administration said more migratory birds would be drawn to the 250-acre plot of wetlands in the Richard P. Kane Natural Area, creating a “threat to public safety,” the paper said.

People Hurting Birds

Noisy, squawking Ring-necked Parakeets are flourishing in the south-east of England. Now some conservationists now think they are a threat to native species — but nobody can agree what to do about them. But English Nature has announced that from January, ring-necked parakeets’ protected status will be removed so landowners can shoot or poison them without first obtaining a license. This cull, said one environmentalist, was “racism” against exotic immigrants. While they originated in the Himalayas and only came here as pets, parakeets, added the London Wildlife Trust, were now “as British as curry”.

People Helping Birds

National Wildlife Refuges around the United States, such as the Santee National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina and Cape May in New Jersey, are celebrating National Wildlife Refuge Week, which began yesterday. Be sure to check out your local wildlife refuges for fun events scheduled throughout the week that the entire family can enjoy.

The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), have joined forces and are working with BirdLife Partners in Ghana (Ghana Wildlife Society), Burkina Faso (Naturama), the Netherlands (Vogelbescherming Nederland) and Denmark (Dansk Ornitologisk Forening) to mount the largest research project of its type to understand more about migratory birds that spend the non-breeding season south of the Sahara desert. Some of the greatest declines of birds in the UK are among migratory songbirds such as Common Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, European Turtle-dove, Streptopelia turtur, Common Nightingale, Luscinia megarhynchos, and Spotted Flycatcher, Muscicapa striata. These species breed in Europe and migrate to sub-Saharan Africa.

Wild Birds News

Police in southern Indiana say a great horned owl flew through the pre-dawn darkness into the front of a moving Ford F-250 pickup truck — and survived even as the collision mangled the truck’s radiator. The bird was left trapped inside the grill of the truck driven by James Ellis of Shoals. A Dubois County sheriff’s deputy called a state Department of Natural Resources officer to the scene Thursday on U.S. 231 near Haysville to remove the owl, who was sent to a local wildlife rehabber.

Bird Watching News

A flycatcher normally found in the hot, arid Southwest thrilled a crowd of rapt birders for several hours at wet and blustery Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor recently. Three birders from Stark County had braved the inclement weather to search for whatever surprises the cold front had delivered. A small, plain bird hawking insects at the dunes caught their attention. Although its appearance posed a sharp contrast to the fiery red plumage of the adult male of the species, the birders were astute enough to recognize it as a young vermilion flycatcher — the state’s fourth, and the first ever seen in Northeast Ohio. (Story includes photographs)

Bird enthusiasts — they are called “birders” — took part in Sunday’s “Big Sit” at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The “Sit” is a nationwide competition sponsored by Bird Watchers Digest. The purpose of the event is to identify all the birds that can be seen or heard from inside a 17-foot circle. Brown, an employee at Wal-Mart, said she has been a birder for some time, but has only participated in the “Sit” twice. “I usually just watch from my backyard,” Brown said. “But it’s good to get together and watch with others. Sometimes it takes several of us to identify a bird. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Avian Zoonotics and Disease News

Wild birds are seen as the carriers of a “low-path” H5N2 avian influenza virus that hit a turkey farm in Abbotsford, B.C. in January 2009. But how a second nearby farm got infected is still unknown, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Thursday. In its report on its investigation of a low-pathogenicity (“low-path”) H5N2 avian flu outbreak on two poultry farms in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, CFIA said the disease on the first farm is “believed to have resulted from contact with wild birds.”

Here’s a really well-written “FAQ” (Frequently Asked Questions document) about influenza, thanks to the King County Health Department in my other home, Seattle, Washington.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 11 October 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 (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.

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!