Birds in the News 58 (v2n9)


Orange-bellied parrot, Neophema chrysogaster,
now numbering only approximately 200 individuals, is one of the world's rarest birds.
Photographer: Dave Watts.

Birds in Science

Scientists have discovered that migrating dragonflies and songbirds exhibit many of the same behaviors, suggesting the rules that govern such long-distance travel may be simpler and more ancient than was once thought. This research is based on data generated by tracking 14 green darner dragonflies with radio transmitters weighing only 300 milligrams -- about a third as much as a paper clip. Green darners, Anax walsinghami (pictured), are among the 25 to 50 species of dragonflies thought to be migratory among about 5200 species worldwide. The team of researchers that made the discovery, led by Princeton University's Martin Wikelski, tracked the insects for up to 10 days from both aircraft and handheld devices on the ground. They found that the dragonflies' flight patterns showed many similarities to those of birds that migrate over the same regions of coastal New Jersey. The research was published in the 11 May issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Biology Letters. [Photograph: Linda Alley].

People Helping Birds

Each year over 340 species of bird leave their breeding grounds in North America to spend the northern winter in the Neotropics, to the south of the Tropic of Cancer. For one third of these "Neotropical migrants" their wintering range and/or important stopover sites lie within the tropical Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. A total of 114 "Important Bird Areas" (IBAs) were identified as being important for the conservation of neotropical migrants. However, 43 (37%) of all these important sites are entirely unprotected, underlining the need for new site-based conservation measures to ensure the long-term conservation of both endemic and migratory species.

Endangered species like golden eagles, Aquila chrysaetos (pictured), deepwater sculpins and wolverines will soon have new protection in Ontario, Canada. Last week, the government launched a review of the Endangered Species Act, which aims to protect plants and animals that are vulnerable or close to extinction. "Stronger species-at-risk legislation is part of our commitment to conserve Ontario's rich natural heritage for future generations," Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay said in a statement.

The U.S. Senate declared May 11, 2006 Endangered Species Day to "encourage the people of the United States to become educated about, and aware of, threats to species, success stories in species recovery, and the opportunity to promote species conservation worldwide." To help celebrate and educate, the Center for Biological Diversity has created a website, The Road to Recovery detailing the conservation efforts that allowed the populations of 100 endangered species in every U.S. state and territory to recover.

In Kilauea, Japanese researchers are hand-raising Laysan albatrosses, Phoebastria immutabilis, in an experiment to see if a rare species in Japan may survive relocation. In San Diego, another set of researchers is rejoicing about the potential preservation of a native Kaua'i bird thought to be left in the wild only in the Alaka'i Swamp area above Koke'e State Park. The 200th hatching of a puaiohi, Myadestes palmeri (pictured), at the San Diego Zoo's Hawaiian bird-breeding center, is a milestone that renews optimism for the fate of this critically endangered bird species native to Kaua'i, zoo officials said in a press release. Of those 200, over 110 have been released into the wild in the Alaka'i Wilderness Preserve. [Photograph: Eike Wulfmeyer].

The golden-winged warbler, Vermivora chrysoptera (pictured), is a species of special conservation interest and classified by BirdLife as "Near Threatened". In recent years its population has decreased due to hybridising with Blue-winged Warbler, V. pinus, in areas where their ranges overlap in North America, as well as from the threats the species faces in its non-breeding grounds due to constant deforestation. The "Alianza Alas Doradas" (Golden-winged Alliance) suspects that there might be many unpublished reports of the species which will improve understanding of these species distribution away from its breeding grounds. They are keen to receive reports of golden-winged warbler and/or blue-winged warbler sightings outside of the United States and Canada.

According to estimates from the National Geographic Society, there are 15 million or more voting age Americans who have a serious interest in the welfare of birds. But most of these millions of "bird people" in America do not realize that they have the potential voting power to control the outcome of many elections in our country. In recent presidential contests, a swing of just a few thousand votes would have changed the outcome in a number of key states. For example, if only 270 Republican bird watchers in Florida had shifted their votes in the 2000 presidential election, President Bush would not have won the election. In many states the number of adult bird enthusiasts is so large that an organized bird watcher vote could control the outcome of almost any election. Now you can join an organization that seeks to protect birds and their habitats, BirdersUnited in the United States.

If you are a bird that does not fly, having two legs is important. So when a wild North Island brown kiwi, Apteryx mantelli (pictured), lost one of his legs below the knee to a gin trap, a New Zealand zoo decided to help out this iconic native bird. The zoo decided to see if it could fit a prosthetic leg to the kiwi. This story details how a prosthetic leg was made for this bird, complete with pictures. [Photographer: Rod Morris].

This weekend the Center for Biological Diversity launched a nationwide "Give a Hoot" campaign to protect imperiled owls, an event that coincided with the release of the major motion picture Hoot. Based on a novel by Carl Hiaasen, Hoot is an "eco-thriller" about teenagers who take on Florida developers that are destroying habitat for owls. "Unfortunately, destruction of habitat for rare owls is not only part of a novel or Hollywood script. Imperiled owls throughout the country are threatened by bulldozers clearing land for urban sprawl and chainsaws cutting into old-growth forests," said Jeff Miller, wildlife advocate with the Center. However, be sure to read this other story, which says that the film's star, the burrowing owl, Athene cunicularia (pictured), is doing well in Florida and remains only a protected "special concern" to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

People Hurting Birds

Even though horseshoe crab populations have decreased by 90% after one decade of overfishing, and even though a large number of migratory shorebird species depend upon a healthy horseshoe crab population to survive, and despite the fact that their populations have also decreased recently, a proposed two-year moratorium on horseshoe crab fishing has been rejected. In fact, it is feared that the one of the most severely affected migratory shorebirds, the red knot, Calidris canutus, will go extinct within five years. For example, red knot numbers fell from 31,568 in 2004 to approximately 17,000 in early 2006. GrrlScientist note: This absurd and ridiculous governmental brownnosing to the short-term predatory interests of big business and of local fishermen reminds me of the cod fishery debacle of the late 1980s where overfishing drove the Northern Atlantic cod fishery to the brink of extinction by 1992, while the government stood around like idiots, twiddling their collective thumbs. (Learn more about the tragic loss of the cod fishery in this excellent book, Lament for an Ocean by Michael Harris (Ontario: McClellan & Stuart, 1998).

Federal authorities have charged two area men with killing hundreds of great blue herons, Ardea herodias, ospreys, Pandion haliaetus, one bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, and other protected migratory birds at a commercial trout hatchery in Sunderland. Bird experts say that, given the hundreds of carcasses found at the fish hatchery, serious damage may have been done to the population of migratory fish-eating birds in the western part of the state of Massachusetts. Arrested last week were hatchery owner Michael Zak Jr., 58, of 467 Amherst Road in Sunderland, and Timothy Lloyd, 29, of 115 Park St., Easthampton. "Ospreys, herons and eagles are all natural predators of fish, so I think you can probably figure out for yourself their motive," said Christina Di Iorio-Sterling of the U.S. Department of Justice. Federal officials said there was no protective netting at Zak's hatchery to ward off birds. GrrlScientist note: You have to scroll down the page for this story but the evidence is quite damning. Even though the penalty for the 250+ dead herons alone would be a maximum sentence of more than 125 years in prison and more than $3 million in fines, keep in mind that this IS a federal crime involving wild birds, so my guess is that these scummy boyz will get off with a slap on the wrist, and nothing more.

The nation's largest offshore wind farm will be built off the Padre Island National Seashore in South Texas, a critical migratory bird flyway, Texas land commissioner Jerry Patterson said Thursday. Patterson lauded what he said would be an 40,000-acre span of turbines about 400 feet tall able to generate energy to power 125,000 homes. But some environmentalists say the promise of clean energy may not be worth the deaths of countless birds of rare species that migrate through the area each year on their way to and from winter grounds in Mexico and Central America. "You probably couldn't pick a worse location, unless you're trying to settle the issue as to how damaging they are to migratory birds," said Walter Kittelberger, chairman of the Lower Laguna Madre Foundation. Laguna Madre is the strip of water between the mainland and Padre Island. GrrlScientist comment: On one hand, this is a critical location for migratory birds, a place that serves as a refueling ground for migrants entering several North American flyways. However, I have seen varying accounts regarding the avian fatality rate from windfarms, especially when compared to the mortality resulting from migratory birds that crash into skyscrapers at night. Does anyone out there have some articles that they can share regarding this?

Approximately 100 oil-coated Magellanic penguins, Spheniscus magellanicus, have turned up dead in recent weeks off the coast of Argentina, most in a nature reserve near the frigid southernmost tip of Patagonia. The Argentine Coast Guard said it was sending flights in search of oil spills, but reported finding none that could have caused the birds coated in black crude to begin arriving on shores off the Straits of Magellan. "This is a very tragic accident," said Carla Poleschi, at the environmental group, Fundacion Patagonia Natural. "While the number of penguin deaths in the past have been high, reaching 40,000 in 1992, we have not seen an incident of this magnitude in many years."

Parrot News

Storms, disease, habitat loss, and introduced pests such as weeds, foxes, feral cats and the house mouse are rated above wind farms as threats to the orange-bellied parrot, Neophema chrysogaster (pictured, also at top), a report prepared for the Australian Defense Department reveals. Despite federal Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, blocking a Victorian wind farm because of the perceived threat to the parrot, the report also rates rabbits and finches above wind farms. Identifying 10 major threats to the parrot's survival, the report lists the number one threat as factors associated with the bird's small breeding population. The Defense Department report ranks wind energy at number six on the list of 10 threats to the bird's survival. [Photographer: Dave Watts].

Avian Influenza News

Even as it crops up in the far corners of Europe and Africa, the virulent avian influenza that raised fears of a human pandemic have been quelled in the parts of Southeast Asia where it claimed its first and most numerous victims. Vietnam, which has been the location for almost half of the human cases of H5N1 flu in the world, has not seen a single case in humans or a single outbreak in poultry this year. Thailand, the second-hardest-hit nation until Indonesia recently passed it, has not had a human case in nearly a year or one in poultry in six months. GrrlScientist note: even though the "bird flu" has been identified in Africa and Europe, it has not been carried back to SE Asia by migrating birds that are returning to their northern breeding grounds. I think this is good news, another confirmation that wild birds were either all exposed to avian influenza at levels that were sufficient for them to build an effective immunity to this specific viral strain (H5N1) -- which is unlikely -- or that wild birds are and always were, at best, inefficient vectors for "bird flu". In fact, Juan Lubroth of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization finally publicly acknowledges that avian influenza is not spread by migratory birds, but by "human actions, trade and husbandry practices".

Did anyone watch that made-for-TV movie last week, Fatal Contact (ABC)? Unfortunately, I do not own a TV, otherwise, I would have watched it, just so I could rant about it here and also in a letter that I would have undoubtedly have written to the TV station executives (ranting is a favorite hobby of mine that I have rarely indulged in since unemployment). Despite that, I have read enough press releases, etc., that I think I would have had blood spurting from my eyeballs because I certainly would have scratched them out after 20 minutes of watching this film. One thing I found especially frustrating was this comment made by journalist John Barry, author of one of the best books published on the 1918 flu pandemic; The Great Influenza (2005) -- a man whose name appeared in the film's credits. "To say it's overdone is an understatement," Mr. Barry said. He declined to help publicize the film, he said, but did not ask that his name be removed [italics mine]. His consulting, he said, had been merely a two-hour conference call and some later comments on the script, which he did not write. He compared his role to that of a lawyer whose client pays for his advice but ignores it. GrrlScientist says; Hello? If the film was "overdone", then why does he allow his name to appear in the credits? His decision couldn't possibly be influenced by money, could it? Gee, what other rea$on could there be? If I was in Barry's shoes, I would be EMBARRASSED to have my name associated with such a piece of shite as that film, and I have more money problems than he can possibly imagine! The fact that he did NOT demand his name be removed from that movie's credits is, in my opinion, a huge mistake that undermines his credibility because it implies a tacit agreement on his part with the film's erroneous and incredibly stupid message. The fact that he has a truly respected book out there on this topic demands an ethical responsibility from him to associate only with credible sources of information! And journalists wonder why the public has lost faith in them and in their credibility, sheesh! [Phtotographer: Ken George/AP].

Streaming Birds

This week on BirdNote, you will hear about; Monday, the burrowing owl, Athene cunicularia; Tuesday, avian flu; Wednesday, the spring repertoire of the Bewick's wren, Thryomanes bewickii; Thursday, the invasive bullfrog; and Friday, "stand-still birding"; taking it easy on the birding trail. 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].

Last week, there was a program about migrating birds on KUOW radio's Weekday program (KUOW is Seattle's NPR affiliate). This program includes lots of amazing birdsong recordings by and an interview with Martyn Stewart and with Stephen Brown, editor of several magazines. The birdsongs alone are worth a listen [53:45: mp3 or RealTime]


Here is another bald EagleCam, focused on a nest with two chicks in it.

Kodak has a BirdCam, featuring a pair of nesting peregrine falcons, Falco peregrinus.

Miscellaneous birds

whiteeyeConservation efforts for the Rota bridled white-eye, Zosterops rotensis (pictured), a small yellowish bird found on the island of Rota in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and its proposed critical habitat are estimated to cost between $806,000 and nearly $4.5 million over the next 20 years, according to a federal analysis. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its analysis this week, and also reopened the public comment period on a proposal of critical habitat for this bird species. The Service will accept public comments until June 5. This article includes contact information for sending your comments to the appropriate officials.

Australia's orange-bellied parrot, Neophema chrysogaster (pictured, top), and America's Florida panther, Puma concolor coryi, are in an exclusive but growing club -- rare species receiving costly protection even as the world faces what may be the worst wave of extinctions since the dinosaurs. Governments in rich nations sometimes write virtual blank checks to protect endangered animals -- even as thousands of less glamorous creatures and plants slide silently into oblivion. Many experts say it is impossible to set a ceiling on the value of a specie and that willingness to pay may be widening, posing risks for businesses like mining, industry or logging that affect the habitats of rare animals or plants. Don Coursey, a professor in public policy studies at the University of Chicago, once wrote a report estimating it cost $4.9 million per creature to protect the endangered Florida panther -- the most expensive U.S. protection scheme. The California condor, Gymnogyps californianus, was second at $1.6 million per bird.

Bismarck, North Dakota, has been hopping with rare birds recently. First, four recent confirmed whooping crane, Grus americana (pictured), sightings have more than doubled a lengthy list of observations of these endangered white birds in North Dakota this spring. [Photographer: Dan Hagerty/USFWS]. The next day, a rare European goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, was photographed at a backyard feeder. This was probably an escaped cagebird. Finally, a raptor, believed to be a peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus , has found a great place to hang out at the state Capitol building. The raptor has even found a niche where it can perch high up on the Capitol's south side.

Be sure to check out the "Nickname that Bird" contest"!

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The Fine Print: Thanks to my bird pals; NancyJane, Biosparite, Diane, Jim, Justawriter, Ian, Tina, Caren, Dawn, Jeremy, Ellen and Ron for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here. Thanks in advance to Ian for catching my typos; as you might know by now, I put a few typographical errors in these documents just so Ian can find them! All images that appear here are either linked from the news stories that they accompany or they are linked to the site where they are found, and most of them are resized. You can follow these links by clicking on individual images.


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It had a bit of a cognitive-dissonance moment here while reading about the rare sighting of a carduelis carduelis - the only perk of living where I live (backwater rural area) is that I get to see european goldfinches by the dozen wherever I turn. Lovely bird, and lovely issue. Thank you for all the good work.

The push for a federal moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting fell through, but at least New Jersey's moratorium remains in effect. Obviously having the federal ban to cover the whole region would be preferable, but the current arrangement is better than nothing.

I know I have said this before but I want to reiterate how wonderful I feel your work is with this newsletter. You should be very proud of yourself. Please keep up the good work.


By John Del Rio (not verified) on 15 May 2006 #permalink

oh, thanks, john. considering that i was awake until 3am, putting this issue together, i appreciate knowing that.