Birds in the News #50 (v2n1)

Barred Owl, Strix varia, with mouse.
Photo by AJ Hand.
Click on image for a larger view in its own window.

Voting has commenced for the 2005 Koufax Awards and Birds in the News was nominated for the Best Series award. Voting is occurring RIGHT NOW to identify the 6-10 top finalists for this category, so get over there and vote for Birds in the News for the best series award!

Birds in Science

Although they have brains about the size of a grain of rice, hummingbirds have superb memories when it comes to food, according to recently published research. "To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that animals in the wild can remember both the locations of food sources and when they visited them," said Susan Healy from the University of Edinburgh. Healy and scientists in Britain and Canada studied rufous hummingbirds, Selasphorous rufus (pictured), in the Canadian Rockies. They found that the birds remembered where specific flowers were located and when they were last there, two aspects of episodic memory that was thought to be exclusive to humans. The research was recently published in the journal, Current Biology.

People Helping Birds

Scores of birds lured by the bright lights of the big city could be saved from a skull-crushing death if skyscrapers and condominiums simply turned their lights off at night, volunteers who rescue injured birds said. A neatly arranged collection of some 2,000 dead blue jays, sparrows and woodpeckers made for a graphic display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto as part of an effort to draw attention to the countless birds that die each year after crashing into brightly lit buildings. This display included 89 species, some of which are already threatened, that died in the downtown Toronto area during the 2005 fall migratory season. Toronto adopted a migratory bird protection policy on 31 January, the first city in the world to do so. The bylaw, to take effect in April, will require site plans for new buildings to incorporate the needs of migratory birds when installing floodlights and glass.

Twenty-two Laysan Ducks, Anas laysanensis (pictured), were released on Midway Atoll, Hawaii, in December 2005 as part of a two-year reintroduction project organized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Geological Survey. The Laysan Duck is Critically Endangered and at one stage was the rarest bird in the world with just one pair remaining. The male died, leaving the female to rear a brood successfully. Since then the population has fluctuated between 100 and 600 birds. For just over 100 years, the last wild population has survived on a tiny coral atoll, Laysan Island, just 3.7 km2 in size, where they have suffered from food shortages, habitat loss and low reproductive success. "We are confident the birds released in 2005 will settle and begin to produce ducklings in 2006," said Nigel Jarrett of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

A flock of 10 Laysan albatross chicks, Phoebastria immutabilis (pictured), still fuzzy and flightless, flew into Kaua'i Friday -- on a chartered plane. The birds will be held in quarantine for about three days, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before they are handraised by Japanese researchers. Japanese researchers hope that through learning how to nurture these one-month-old chicks from the relatively numerous Laysan albatross they will better understand how to bring Japan's short-tailed albatross, Phoebastria albatrus, or golden gooney, back from the edge of extinction. Though once among the most abundant species of albatross in the North Pacific, millions of short-tailed albatrosses were killed for their feathers at the end of the 20th century.

Avian Zoonotic News

Perched inside a lavishly decorated cage, a palm-sized Indonesian songbird looks unsuspectingly at its owner. Rudjiono is worried he may have to kill his pet bird -- locally known as Perkutut, Geopelia striata (pictured) -- if the government orders a cull in his neighborhood to stamp out bird flu, which has already killed millions of fowl across the sprawling archipelago. "This is a very sensitive and loving creature. How can you kill it? It makes no sense," said Rudjiono, as the musical sound of some 100 songbirds in a wooden cage filled the air. According to BirdLife, a bird conservation group, there are more than 2.5 million pet birds in Indonesia, including protected species. "From our research in five main cities in Indonesia on average, one in every five households keeps singing birds as pets," said BirdLife's manager of research, Pete Wood. Veterinarian Arsentina Panggabean, one of the officials in charge of building awareness among poultry breeders, said many residents were resentful of the plans to slaughter fowl. GrrlScientist note: Honestly, pet birds that are kept away from other birds, especially poultry, have little chance of getting bird flu. For this reason, such a mass cull of indoor pet birds looks a lot like panic killings by officials who want to present the appearance to the public that they are doing something useful. If I was in this precarious position, I'd flee the city with my pet birds to hide them from officials. And in view of the so-called "experts" such as Marra's comments regarding pet birds and bird flu, chances are that this scenario will come to pass for me and other Americans in the next year or two.

Bird flu in Africa is more likely to spread via poultry than migrating wild birds, experts said recently, as the deadly H5N1 form of the virus was found in more chickens in Nigeria. The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) said the virus had now been detected on more than 130 farms in 11 of Nigeria's 37 states, in both the north and the south. Other coutries where avian influenza has been detected recently include Serbia, Poland, Azerbaijan, and Albania. It is possibly also in Norway and it is predicted that avian influenza will reach the United States by summer 2006. A German stone marten (a mustelid) was added to the growing list of animals that have been infected with H5N1. Meanwhile, despite one disclaimer in reader comments on this blog, the French are engaging in what is now being referred to as "avian flu psychosis". GrrlScientist comments regarding the spread of avian influenza.

Avian Dilemmas

With the decline of northern spotted owls, Strix occidentalis caurina (pictured), at a crisis point, a group of scientists is urging the government to consider experiments that include killing some barred owls, Strix varia (pictured, top), that have invaded spotted owl territory along the west coast. Barred owls are larger and more aggressive than spotted owls, and they kill them when competing for food, nest sites and territories. "We are in a crisis situation," said Steven Courtney, vice president of the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute in Portland, who organized a meeting regarding the situation. "Whatever decision we are going to make, whether to go ahead with a removal experiment or not, we need to make it soon." GrrlScientist wonders; As a west coast native, I have watched this issue develop during my entire life. This is an incredibly difficult situation to deal with. If you were one of the scientists involved in making this decision, what would you suggest, my peeps?

Streaming Birds

This week on BirdNote, you will hear about; Monday, Bald Eagles rebuilding their nest; Tuesday, A treasure chest (of hummingbirds); Wednesday, the Sandhill Crane Festival; Thursday, European Starling nightmare; and Friday, how Master Gardeners can help birds. BirdNotes transport the listener out of the daily grind with two-minute vignettes that incorporate the rich sounds of birds provided by Cornell University and by other sound recordists, with photographs and written stories that illustrate the interesting -- and in some cases, truly amazing -- abilities of birds. Some of the shows are Pacific Northwest-oriented, but many are of general interest. BirdNote can be heard live, Monday through Friday, 8:58-9:00AM in Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia, Canada, on KPLU radio and now also in North Central Washington state on KOHO radio. All episodes are available in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [rss mp3/podcast].

Miscellaneous Birds

Most nature lovers who have heard of John Bachman know him only because two birds: Bachman's Warbler and Bachman's Sparrow are named for him. However, he was a very important Carolina naturalist for more than 50 years and deserves not to dwell in the shadow of his friend and colleague, John James Audubon. In This Week at Hilton Pond, they talk about Bachman's diverse contributions, not only in natural history but in theology, race relations, and other realms. They also provide info about an upcoming John Bachman Symposium being held in April for the 150th anniversary of Newberry College, which Bachman founded. As always, they include a tally of all birds banded during the week at Hilton Pond Center, and also list several interesting returns of birds banded in previous years.

The Fine Print: Thanks to my bird pals; Rob, Diane, Sara, Mike S, Bill, Ellen and Ron for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here, and thanks to Ian for correcting my errors. I am especially grateful for Wallace's generous $upport. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs that appear here are either linked from the news stories that they accompany or they are linked to the site from where they were found. You can follow these links by clicking on individual images.

I also appreciate long-time readers, Jamie, Tony and anonymous blog reader, for nominating Birds in the News for a 2005 Koufax Award for Best Series! Voting is occurring RIGHT NOW so get over there and place your vote for Birds in the News for the best series award!

Be sure to check out the other animals in today's Friday Ark #77.

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