Birds in the News 91 (v3n18)

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This adult piping plover was on the beach at Kettle Point in the morning of 10 July 2007. The bird eventually flew off when beach strollers were approaching.

Image: appears here with the kind permission of the photographer, Alf Rider.

Birds in Science

The love songs of 1979 just don't cut it anymore with the ladies -- lady sparrows, that is. Today's females are better wooed by the song of their contemporary male counterparts, according to Duke University researcher Elizabeth Derryberry, who is studying the attraction habits of white-crowned sparrows. Derryberry used recordings of the male sparrow's song that were recorded in 1979 and again in 2003 at Tioga Pass, which runs through Yosemite National Park in California, to see how the birds would react. Although the females responded to the 1979 recording, they had a definite preference for the 2003 song. They offered more "copulation solicitations" to the newer calls, which have a lower-pitched "whistle" followed by a more prolonged trill. "It just isn't as interesting to them," Derryberry said of the oldie. Both the old and new recordings were of equally high quality, she said.

For the first time ever, an elusive recurve-billed bushbird, Clytoctantes alixii, has been photographed in the wild. The bird, recently rediscovered by a Colombian ornithologist named Oscar Laverde after a 40-year absence, has a heavy, upward-curving beak that gives it the illusion of an enigmatic smile. Chris Sharpe, an Associate Researcher with ProVita in Venezuela, contacted me regarding this entry about the "smiling bird" that I wrote and he would like to clarify several things for all of you.

People Hurting Birds

Brightly colored birds have been some of the hardest hit by radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, say ecologists. High levels of radiation have also been found to have a particularly harmful effect on species that lay large eggs, or migrate long distances, say the researchers in the latest Journal of Applied Ecology. "The research shows that the effect [of radiation] on birds is much stronger than previously thought -- the open question is why it took 20 year before anybody bothered to look," said Anders Møller of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France.

The critically endangered Perija Parakeet, Pyrrhura caeruleiceps, was photographed in the wild for the first time by Adriana Tovar and Luis Eduardo Urueña on the same expedition where they photographed the recurve-billed bushbird, thanks to Loro Parque Fundacion. The Perija parakeet population is estimated to be between 30 to 50 individual birds due to habitat destruction (deforestation and burning to create agricultural areas).

Wildlife authorities in Mindanao destroyed nearly 300 wild parrots and birds along with some other animals that were smuggled into Davao City from Indonesia, due to an irrational fear of bird flu. The scum-sucking smuggler, Mike Artocilla, admitted that smuggling of wildlife stock has been going on with suppliers from the islands in Indonesia even though he knew the perils of avian flu. The environment department's Protected Area and Wildlife Bureau said 270 wild birds were burned in government incinerators in Sasa Monday afternoon to prevent further complications. The incinerated birds came from the Indonesian island of Halmajira, near the city of Bitung, and included Sulfur-crested Cockatoos, Eclectus Parrots, Chattering lories, Birds of Paradise, and endangered Palm Cockatoos. [GrrlScientist note: I am outraged at the sheer unrestricted cruelty and stupidity of the smuggler and the government officials. I wish there was a way to file a formal international complaint about this unreasonable and cruel behavior because I would use it!]

Perhaps no seabird is more iconic along the shores, bays and bayous of the coastal southeast than the mighty brown pelican. Cursed by many misinformed anglers, the birds' comical demeanor never fails to delight camera-toting tourists. The brown pelican is a true celebrity in an angling class of its own. Commonly overlooked as an aid or tool to a better overall angling experience, the brown pelican should be embraced and enjoyed by all. However, in recent years, that has been far from the case as this magnificent coastal seabird presently faces tough obstacles complete with misinformation, escalating numbers of angling related incidents and an overall lack of compassion and respect. But just who is this feathered angler we share our saltwater playground with? How can we as stewards of the environment assist with its current struggle to flourish in a rapidly changing and over populated coastal environment?

A trader dealing in protected birds was arrested in Delhi in a dramatic operation no Saturday. Four Alexandrine parakeets, 60 rose ringed parakeets and 30 munias were seized from him. The raid was conducted by the wildlife crime control bureau. The protected birds were concealed in store rooms in the Jama Masjid area in small cages in cloth bags. They had come as cargo on an Indian flight from Calcutta. According to the wildlfe protection act any trade in these birds is illegal and punishment can be imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of Rs 25,000 or both.

Birds Helping People

In Los Angeles, some recovering war veterans are getting therapeutic help for post-traumatic stress disorder from an unlikely source: rescued and abused parrots. Physicians say it's an exercise in mutual healing for both parrot and patient. [NPR: streaming; 3:56]

People Helping Birds

A 30-strong platoon of elite Israeli paratroopers took part in a mission to rescue a pair of rare golden eagles in the West Bank town of Hebron. The soldiers were called in by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority after it received information that the birds were being held in a house in the town. The eagles were eventually tracked down to a pet shop, confiscated and taken to a zoo. Two Palestinians were detained. Only six pairs of the eagles exist in the wild in Israel, the authority said.

The Environment Ministry started on Tuesday a training program to adapt Japanese crested ibises to nature at a facility of the Sado Japanese Crested Ibis Conservation Center in Sado, Niigata Prefecture. It is the first time that such training has been held for the bird, which had gone extinct in Japan's natural environment. The ministry hopes to release the birds into the wild on Sado Island as early as in autumn next year after a training period of about one year, officials said.

Rare Bird News

At least two rare snowy plover nests have been confirmed at the Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Moffit, southeast of Bismarck, ND. Refuge manager Paul Van Ningen and biologist Carol Aron, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, spotted one nest recently.

It's the avian equivalent of a Honus Wagner baseball card -- and it's arrived in Brooklyn, NY. A rare Western Reef Heron was spotted this week in Calvert Vaux Park, just north of Coney Island Creek, the first recorded sighting of the creature in New York State. The Western Reef Heron is native to Africa and India. No one is sure how the bird made it this far, and there is some speculation that it is the same bird that was spotted last year in Maine and New Hampshire.

State wildlife officials are considering removing the peregrine falcon from their list of imperiled species. The birds were once extinct in the eastern U.S. because of pesticide use. But officials say the bird has rebounded as well as the bald eagle -- another bird nearly driven to extinction by the use of DDT. Representatives from the Florida Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife said there's no reason right now to oppose removing the falcons from the list.

The emperor penguin and nine other penguin species could gain protection under the Endangered Species Act next year, thanks to a petition filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the Center for Biological Diversity. The CBD reports that the ten species are the emperor, southern rockhopper, northern rockhopper, Fiordland crested, erect-crested, macaroni, white-flippered, yellow-eyed, African and Humboldt penguins. The CBD had also petitioned for two additional species -- the snares crested penguin and the royal penguin -- which the Fish and Wildlife Service judged were not currently eligible for Endangered Species Act protection.

Something is killing this spring's crop of yellow-eyed penguins. It's not the stoats, cats and hedgehogs that plague the nests and chicks of seabirds elsewhere. In March, Big Fluffy, a three-month-old chick just days from independence, was found dead on the Anglem coast of Stewart Island. Big Fluffy was named because he was fully feathered, had put on good body weight and plenty of fat reserves. He should have made it.

A team from the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) has established the first confirmed nesting of a pair of Wreathed Hornbills, Aceros undulatus, in Malaysia. The discovery was made during a survey of hornbills in the Temengor section of the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex at the end of May 2007, by MNS Hornbill Conservation Project Field Officer Lim Kim Chye, Lim Swee Yian and an indigenous tracker. The male bird was observed feeding berries to its mate in a sealed hole with a chick inside.

Avian Influenza News

The Government has given warning that wild birds migrating to Britain over the next few weeks may be carrying the H5N1 strain of avian flu. Debby Reynolds, the Chief Veterinary Officer, is ready to order birds to be kept indoors if farms are deemed to be at risk. A risk assessment published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs states that the highest risk is from birds that have passed through the Czech Republic, Germany and France. Last month there were three outbreaks of the flu strain in the Czech Republic, and three cases in southern Germany. There was also an outbreak in France this month and experts expect more cases. [GrrlScientist comment: I seriously doubt that wild birds would be very efficient at spreading H5N1 -- really. Wild birds are migrating hundreds or thousands of miles, and an infection with any virus, especially something as lethal as H5N1, is not compatible with surviving such a huge physical effort.]

The loss from the discovery of avian influenza antibodies in turkeys at a Shenandoah County farm could be up to $600,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will reimburse the farmer the fair market value of the 54,000 turkeys in which the antibodies were discovered during routine pre-slaughter testing on July 6. The cost of destroying and disposing of the birds also will be paid, said Karen Eggert of the USDA'S Animal Health Inspection Service. The antibodies were most consistent with the low-pathogenic H5N1 strain of the avian influenza A, which poses no threat to humans, a Department of Agriculture statement said. As a result, a local poultry show and sale was canceled.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been reported this week in humans in Indonesia and in birds in Viet Nam, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Austria and Bangladesh.

Streaming Birds

I can't say this often enough (I've already mentioned it several times here), but there is a YouTube source for birders called BirdCinema that you should check out. Already there are plenty of nice videos of wild birds for you to enjoy.

On BirdNote, for the week of July 16, 2007: Monday, reintroduction of the Western Bluebird to the San Juan Islands; Tuesday, "Fast Food for Opportunistic Birds," the story of by-gone days told by Victor Scheffer, science advisor to BirdNote; Wednesday, Common Poorwill; Thursday, Savannah Sparrow; Friday, the nests of Black Swifts behind waterfalls. 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].

There is a nice little YouTube video of a Bird of Paradise courtship dance that you have to see.

Miscellaneous Birds

For This Week at Hilton Pond, the naturalists there were pruning a Forsythia thicket when a sharp pain to the hand led to their discovery of a complex set of interrelationships between ants, aphids, and larvae. For an ultra-close-up photo essay about what they THOUGHT they saw and what was REALLY there, please visit the latest edition. As always, they include a list of all birds banded, plus a nature note or two.

The Birding Community E-bulletin for July 2007 is now available. This is a bulletin that is distributed monthly through the generous support of Steiner Binoculars as a service to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats. You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) and on the birding pages for Steiner Binoculars.

On a recent Sunday morning, more than 20 elderly Chinese men gathered in Chinatown to listen to four young birds sing. A breeder named Tommy Chan had brought his birds from Hyde Park in upstate New York down to Sara Delano Roosevelt Park on the NYC's Lower East Side, specifically to a half-moon garden just south of Delancey Street. Most of the men who come to listen to them are retired; the oldest are in their late 80s. Yui Kang, who has been coming to the Hua Mei Bird Garden since the mid-1990s and has been collecting songbirds for more than 50 years, is known as the chief. "We are old men," he said the other day. "We like bringing the birds and drinking the coffee. We feel better."

Do you love to feed birds? I know that I sure do! Anyway, for those of you who feed birds or who want to, here is Cornell University's official Project FeederWatch Frequently Asked Questions About Birds and Bird-feeding to provide valuable bird feeding advice.

Guitar wildman Ted Nugent originally rose to fame as a member of the Amboy Dukes, and his later solo career featured such classics as "Cat Scratch Fever" and "Wango Tango." During the 1990s he was in the band Damn Yankees; since then he's gone solo again. But few people know that the "Motor City Madman" is also a lifelong bird watcher, as BWD editor Bill Thompson, III, had an opportunity to find out at the 2007 Shot Show (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show and Conference). As an avid hunter and a birder, Nugent has his own intimate perspective on the avian world-one that, with a little urging from Bird Watcher's Digest publisher Andy Thompson, he gives readers a rare glimpse of in The Motor City Birdman.


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The Fine Print: Thanks to Ian, Justawriter, Diane, Biosparite, Ellen, Ian, Jeremy and Ron for sending story links. Thanks in advance to Ian 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! Images are resized and are either linked from the news story that they accompany or they are credited and linked back to the photographer.


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You write: "Wildlife authorities in Mindanao destroyed nearly 300 wild parrots and birds along with some other animals that were smuggled into Davao City from Indonesia, due to an irrational fear of bird flu."

I do feel sorrowful that the birds needed to be destroyed.

But there is nothing irrational about the fear of bird flu in the Philippines. It is one of only two Asian countries which have remained -- so far -- free of H5N1 avian influenza.

And the people there are so poor that there is no rational way to devote resources to testing the smuggled birds, rather than killing and safely disposing of them.

And this relates to one of your other points -- about migrating birds.

You opined: "I seriously doubt that wild birds would be very efficient at spreading H5N1 -- really. Wild birds are migrating hundreds or thousands of miles, and an infection with any virus, especially something as lethal as H5N1, is not compatible with surviving such a huge physical effort."

That is understandable reasoning, but it happens to be incorrect. There are many influenza viruses which cause few or no symptoms in some species of birds (notably many wild species, but also some domestic species), but which are highly-pathogenic in other species (notably domestic species, but also in some wild species). That is just a fact.

So although it is highly probable (and proven in some cases) that smuggling is responsible for most transmission of avian influenza to new locations (and that is why the Philippines is so cautious), it is also highly likely that migrating birds are responsible for some of the transmission of avian influenza to new locations.

It is ghastly and sad that so many birds are being destroyed in efforts to stop this unprecedentedly horrific avian virus.

By Path Forward (not verified) on 16 Jul 2007 #permalink

With regard to the 250+ psittacines recently destroyed in the Philippines, "Path Forward" writes "there is nothing irrational about the fear of bird flu in the Philippines."
No, there is nothing irrational about the fear, just about the response.

These deaths brings to at least 1456 as the number of birds thus far sacrificed under these circumstances : 350 reported in February of 2004; 500 in May, 2005; 339 in March, 2006; and now, ca. 267 more. The birds have been largely comprised of psittacines . Also included were a wallaby and a crocodile (not to my knowledge hosts for AI!).

What does not seem to me appropriate (or scientific) is the repeated decision to kill these birds merely out a fear that they might harbor H5N1-AI. Firstly, it has been confirmed to me that the animals were not tested for AI--that test kits were not available at this facility. However, the news reports indicate that "NBI operatives raided the property along Sagittarius Street in Navarro Subdivision Sunday after months of surveillance" (italics mine). Therefore, there was more than adequate time to have proper test kits available in advance, especially since their own Bird Flu Program ( and following) comes out strongly in favor of the need to test for AI before reaching conclusions; describes in detail the available tests; but does not makes any such recommendation as immediate termination under Section 5. Enforcement of the Wildlife Act. .

Therefore, means and opportunity were available to see if any of the birds merited death on the basis given. However, fear and/or lack of concern and/or mere expediency but apparently won out over a scientific approach. Indeed The MindaNews reported that " a PAWB official who asked not to be quoted said the threat of bird flu infection prompted them to quickly burn the stock." . There certainly was no need for undue speed. Perhaps these birds were undervalued, being "only" Indonesian birds; one wonders whether the endangered Philippine cockatoo or eagle would have been so unceremoniously dispatched. Interestingly, TRAFFIC reported in February of 2005, that the Philippines and Indonesia had formed a co-operative initiative to reduce the "illegal trade, both international and domestic, of wild-caught parrots and cockatoos ... which poses a serious threat to the survival of many wild populations... The Philippines plays a role in this trade both as a consumer and re-exporter of Indonesian species. Together with Indonesia, the Philippines is taking steps to stop this illegal trade." However, these initiatives scarcely promote survival of species if the confiscated psittacines (and other birds) are killed willy-nilly.

Additionally, the Philippines Animal Welfare Act of 1998 (Republic Act No. 8485; ) states specifically that "the killing of any animal ... is likewise hereby declared unlawful except ...when the pet animal id afflicted with an incurable communicable disease as determined and certified by a duly licensed veterinarian; [or] When it is done to prevent an imminent danger to the life or limb of a human being." Neither of these criteria were met in the current instance, nor could they have easily been met in the absence of laboratory testing. It appears that Philippines is pretty much alone in their policy, at least among the larger nations.,

Could one say that the risk of H5N1 was high enough to merit mass slaughter without testing? Clearly not. It should be underscored that parrots in fact have only rarely if ever spontaneously contracted the H5N1-strain of Highly PathogenicAvian Influenza (HPAI). In fact, a well-documented case has never been reported. (If they have occurred they should be reported). I reached this conclusion after reviewing the extant literature and asking a number of prominent virologists and epidemiologists (cf. , "Parrots and Avian Influenza : Consequences for Wild and Companion Psittacines", Parrots Magazine, January, 2006 ). Note that psittacines are absent from the list of avian species which have been reported to contract H5N1-AI by the U.S. National Wildlife Health Center.
(… ) . We are aware that approximately 70 birds present in the Wild Animal Rescue Centers of Indonesia (almost all psittacines) have been tested for H5N1-AI using both serologic and PCR/DNA tests. None harbored the virus. The Indonesian Parrot Project believes that every single bird is worthy of efforts to protect them when possible, not just from a humane point of view, but because the protection of, and caring for, wild animals sends a strong conservation message, a message vitiated by the wanton, unjustified killing in the current case.How can one instill a message of conservation if endangered birds meet a fate from government officials which, at least in its finality, is worse than thatendured with the smugglers? ...and when we send a message that all wild birds are to be feared and even killed?

Importantly, the decision in the Philippines also had clear ramifications for human health. A comment by Carlo P. Mallo [ ] noted that " DOH Regional Director Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial said since the birds were not properly tested and were instead immediately terminated considering the absence of testing facilities in the region for avian influenza or the H5N1 virus strain then conscious self-monitoring is the best remedy[emphasis mine]" As a result of the absence of routine testing for "bird flu", the officials still do not know whether a single one of the nearly 1500 birds actually had bird flu, and therefore could not adequately council people about their risk of infection. To tell citizens to monitor themselves for the presence of a deadly disease (which can be rapidly fatal) seems to be inadequate to say the least, especially since it is fear of that disease which is the purported reason for killing the birds in the first place.

PATH FORWARD raises the concern:

Perhaps the government can not afford the expense of test kits to detect 'bird flu' at ports of entry for illegal wildlife. However, the very same week an article appeared in DavaoNews reporting that "the Bureau of Customs presented to the media its X-ray scanning unit facility here designed to cut down the entry of smuggled goods [mostly cars] and raise the agencys revenue collection ". Isn't it ironic that the government has spent many thousand dollars to buy an x-ray unit to detect smuggled cars and raise revenues, but hasn't focused nearly as much on living cargo which they feel could cause death. Perhaps the government should funnel some of those increased revenues into means of saving living animals, and safeguarding human health. Either bird flu is a serious hazard or it is not.

We recognize that it is critical to protect the citizens of the Philippines from HPAI, and that draconian measures may at times be required to accomplish However, that cause may not be furthered by hasty decision-making, and mere expediency.

Re the effect of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster on birds, you quote Moller:

"The research shows that the effect [of radiation] on birds is much stronger than previously thought -- the open question is why it took 20 year before anybody bothered to look," said Anders Møller of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France."

That is a somewhat bizarre statement, since this same author published his first work on this topic in 1993 (PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF LONDON SERIES B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES 252 (1333): 51-57 APR 22 1993), and has published several since then.... Where did that quote come from?

By Albatrossity (not verified) on 17 Jul 2007 #permalink

Dave -- you are right, that is a bizarre statement to make, considering the amount of research out there focused on the Chernobyl region. when i first wrote Birds in the News, i had not done very much intensive digging on this story, but yesterday, i went back and did dig deeply when i wrote this piece for my blog (you will notice that i relied on three scientific papers and two news stories to put my own piece together, which already shows there is plenty of research and interest in the chernobyl region).

but anyway, to answer your question, that particular quote came from the second link (cosmos) in my overview, which says;

Brightly coloured birds have been some of the hardest hit by radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, say ecologists.

High levels of radiation have also been found to have a particularly harmful effect on species that lay large eggs, or migrate long distances, say the researchers in the latest Journal of Applied Ecology.

"The research shows that the effect [of radiation] on birds is much stronger than previously thought - the open question is why it took 20 year before anybody bothered to look," said Anders Møller of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France.

i wonder; do you think he actually SAID that?? if so, why??