Birds in the News 154

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Female Anna's Hummingbird, Calypte anna, sitting on her nest.
Notice her long tongue sticking out of her mouth and the uncommonly bright colors on her gorget.

This bird nested on Bainbridge Island in Washington state earlier this year.

Image: Eva Gerdts, May 2008. [larger view].

Christmas Bird Count News

The Annual Christmas Bird Counts are rapidly approaching, so I am publishing links to all of the counts here; who to contact, and where and when they are being held, so if you have a link to a Christmas Bird Count for your state, please let me know so I can include it in the list:

Alabama (Thanks, Chazz Hesselein)

Arizona (Thanks, Sheri Williamson)

California (Thanks, Joseph Morlan)

Idaho (Thanks, Denise Hughes)

Illinois (Thanks, Urs Geiser)

Iowa (Thanks, Urs Geiser)

Kansas (Thanks, Chuck Otte)

Kentucky (Thanks, Rod)

Minnesota (also view map of Minnesota CBCs) (Thanks, Rick and Steve Weston)

New Jersey (Thanks, Patrick Belardo)

North and South Carolina (also view map for the Carolinas CBCs) Thanks, Kent Fiala and Dennis Burnette)

North Dakota (Thanks, Rick)

Oregon (also view map for WA and OR CBCs) (Thanks, Mike Patterson and Barbara Combs)

Washington State (also view map for WA and OR CBCs) (Thanks, Mike Patterson)

Birds in Science

How does evolution of one character affect the evolution of a species? Find out more in this story about the evolution of toxicity in several species of pitohui, poisonous birds endemic to New Guinea!

People Hurting Birds

The International Bird Rescue and Research Center is offering up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person who fatally shot a great blue heron in Santa Cruz County last month. A man who lives on Rio Del Mar Boulevard in the unincorporated town of Aptos (California) found the 4-foot-tall, stork-like bird suffering from a gunshot wound to the wing on November 14. He caught it with the help of Santa Cruz-based Native Animal Rescue and brought it to the research center, said Jay Holcomb, director of the center. It died four days later. "We were hoping it would live. The bone was pretty shattered and it was just too far beyond repair," he said.

This article is important for those of you who care about the vanishing prairies and pothole regions of the United States, which are important refueling areas and breeding habitats for migrating birds of all species. We are losing these gorgeous regions because of government-subsidized farms in these areas where the rainfall and soil cannot support crops for the long-term. Can you say "institutionalized stupidity"? Can you say "Dust Bowl"? Can you say "Archer Daniels Midland is getting a taxpayer subsidy to kill migratory birds while sucking up valuable food so rich assholes can continue driving their SUVs past all htose hungry people"? I knew you could.

Canada's massive oilsands projects are cutting a deadly swath through one of the most valuable avian nurseries left on the planet, wiping out habitat and nesting areas used by millions of birds each year, says a new report. Virtually every facet of the oilsands -- from the enormous open-pit mines to sprawling refineries and pipelines -- affects waterfowl and songbirds that come from "all over the Americas" to nest in Canada's boreal forest, says the study to be released by leading environmental organizations [freePDF]. "Each year, between 22 and 170 million birds breed in the 35 million acres of boreal forest that could eventually be developed for tarsands oil," says the report, the latest salvo in the battle over Western Canada's oilsands development, which could eventually cover an area the size of Florida.

According to the latest data from the European Bird Census Council (EBCC) and BirdLife International, many of Europe's formerly 'common' farmland birds continue to suffer from the effects of agricultural intensification. The ongoing loss of wildlife and the degradation of the wider environment have become a focus of public interest, as it is increasingly clear how much human well-being, economic development and food production are dependent on biodiversity-rich ecosystems, as well as our ability to deal with the effects of climate change. EU leaders have pledged to halt biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010, but a mid-term report expected from the European Commission in early December is likely to show that this target will not be met without drastic changes to EU and national policies, most notably in the field of agriculture.

Birds Hurting People

A half-blind bird crashed into a motorist's head Tuesday afternoon, leaving the driver slightly dizzy and nauseous, but with no apparent major injuries, police and rescue officials said. The gray bird, which was about a half-foot long, wasn't so lucky and ended up dead. "There was some scabbing over one of its eyes so we believe its vision might have been obstructed," Vega said of the feathered creature. The dead bird remained in the car, and was removed by St. Lucie County Fire District personnel for proper Âdisposal. No one appeared to know the species of bird.

People Helping Birds

It's not easy being a bird in the winter, but with just a little help from the public, they can make it through with flying colors. "For birds, winter is always a challenging time," says Sara Dubois, manager of wildlife services for the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Animals. "Sources of food and water become increasingly scarce and even shelter can be difficult to find." It's at this time of year, says Dubois, that birds need our help the most. "High-calorie and high-fat foods like oil sunflowers, suet and peanuts are all excellent options to place in bird feeders," says Dubois. Dubois cautions well-meaning bird enthusiasts from putting out bread for winter birds. Bread actually hinders avian digestion and if it's fed to birds often enough, it can be fatal.

A small falcon, a merlin, was found injured two months ago in Kennewick, Washington state. After months of healing, it was recently released. Wildlife Executive Director Lynn Tompkins says getting the bird back to health involved looking at human bones, and using the same procedures that a human would get "because the radius, the other bone in [its] forearm was intact we were able to bandage, immobilize the wing of the bandage for a couple weeks," said Tompkins.

Material excavated from beneath London for Crossrail's new cross-capital rail link is to be used to create a huge wildlife reserve in Essex, England. Clay, chalk, sand and gravel taken from the construction of Crossrail will be transferred by ship to Wallasea Island, which the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) will transform into 1,500 acres -- nearly 4 square km -- of tidal wildlife habitat. The project, to help replace wildlife sites damaged by climate change, was announced a year ago but depended on raising at least £12 million. "This is a fantastic agreement that one year ago we could never have imagined," said Graham Wynne, Chief Executive of the RSPB. "Wallasea will be the RSPB's most ambitious and innovative habitat recreation scheme. It will create a huge new area for birds and other wildlife whose existing habitats are being damaged and lost because of climate change. This is a ground-breaking deal between one of the UK's leading enterprises and an environmental charity. It is absolutely wonderful news for wildlife."

BirdLife has become the first non-governmental organization to sign a new treaty protecting migratory raptors. The 'African-Eurasian Memorandum of Understanding on Birds of Prey' will help to protect migratory birds of prey and owls from threats such as habitat destruction, persecution, accidental killing and the effects of climate change. "Birds of prey face many threats as they travel through countries on migration", said Dr Marco Lambertini, BirdLife's Director of Network and Program. "For example, European species of conservation concern such as Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, are killed by powerlines in Europe each year".

Rare Birds News

The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and other partners have launched a last push to find one of the world's rarest birds. They have issued a call to search for and find any remaining populations of Slender-billed Curlew, Numenius tenuirostris. Classified as Critically Endangered, Slender-billed Curlew is the rarest species found in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, with no confirmed records since 1999. However, the Slender-billed Curlew is easily overlooked, challenging to identify and may use countries, such as Iraq and Iran, that have been relatively inaccessible to experienced birders in recent years.

Rio Tinto Alcan NZ, the New Zealand Department of Conservation and Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society have renew a partnership program that will support kakapo conservation until 2020. Their goal is to downlisted kakapos from "critically endangered" to "endangered" by 2020. To do this, the partnership is committed to restoring the bird's numbers by establishing predator-free havens where kakapo can breed on off-shore islands, supplementary feeding to boost breeding success, hand-rearing chicks, conducting research and monitoring, and raising public awareness of the bird's plight.

The Endangered Red-billed Curassow, Crax blumenbachii, is endemic to the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, which once covered 1 million km2 of Brazil, but has been reduced to isolated fragments, mostly in southern Bahia. Because of its large size and attractive appearance, the Red-billed Curassow is hunted for food and the bird trade. It is estimated that no more than 250 individuals remain in the wild, mainly in Sooretana Biological Reserve and Vale do Rio Doce Natural Reserve (state of EspÃrito Santo), and Descobrimento, Monte Pascoal and Pau Brasil National Parks (Bahia). Unfortunately, this bird's rarity has made it and its needs nearly unknown to the locals. However, thanks to an intensive public education program, "Now, everyone...knows what this bird is, what it represents to the forest and what we need to do to save it," says Ariane Alvarez, SAVE Brasil.

Pet Birds News

With the Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and the New Year's holidays upon us, we are all busy planning our family gatherings, gift giving and decorations. The season brings with it unique hazards that we all need to be mindful of so that we can ensure that our feathered family members are protected. Read this essay, Ten Tips to Keep Your Pet Birds Safe This Holiday Season.

Influenza and other Avian Zoonotics and Diseases News

Scientists say an outbreak of avian salmonella is killing songbirds in Marin, California, and likely spreading via outdoor bird feeders. "We have received several calls about dead birds around the feeders," said Melissa Pitkin, education and outreach director for PRBO Conservation Science, a wildlife organization. "Bird disease can occur at feeders and because different birds use them over and over, a disease can spread fast." People who have put out bird feeders are being asked to wash them with soap and water, then disinfect with 10 parts water per one part bleach. The feeders should then be left down for three weeks so sick birds do not re-infect the feeder.

Canadian scientists say they fear avian cholera could put the future of some eider duck colonies in the Arctic in jeopardy. Avian cholera is a potent bacteria-based disease that has affected common eider duck colonies in southern Nunavut and in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec in the last few years. "It is having devastating impacts on some of the largest colonies in the Canadian Arctic," said Grant Gilchrist, a research scientist with the National Wildlife Research Centre in Ottawa.

Scientists are looking at a novel strategy to prevent the spread of pandemic avian influenza. They have developed a vaccine that protects ducks, a known natural reservoir for the virus. Waterfowl are considered to be the natural reservoir of influenza A viruses due to the isolation of all subtypes from these hosts. Current research indicates that influenza A viruses are continuously evolving within their natural environment and can be transmitted to a variety of animals, including humans. H5N1 avian influenza A viruses are now endemic in domestic poultry in many Asian countries and ducks are believed to be the primary source of infection. Reducing the spread of H5N1 in ducks could play a key role in minimizing the risk of a pandemic outbreak.

Avian flu viruses make mallard ducks thinner than other ducks, a finding that implies they do not spread the germs over long distances, researchers reported. Their tests of thousands of ducks migrating through Sweden showed the viruses do affect the birds, contrary to conventional wisdom that the pathogens have no effect on them. And, to their surprise, they found the birds only "shed," or release, virus for a few days, the researchers reported. "Although many mallard populations are migratory, the short virus shedding times (often less than a week) imply that individual birds are not long-distance dispersers of the virus on a continental scale."

Migrating waterfowl may be carrying avian influenza viruses from Asia to the Americas, U.S. government researchers reported recently. They found genetic evidence that some non-dangerous influenza viruses infecting northern pintail ducks in Alaska are genetically more closely related to Asian strains of bird flu than to North American strains. "Although some previous research has led to speculation that intercontinental transfer of avian influenza viruses from Asia to North America via wild birds is rare, this study challenges that," said Chris Franson, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, who helped lead the study.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been found in domestic poultry in Vietnam and India.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 7 December 2008. BirdNotes can be heard seven mornings per week at 8:58-9:00am throughout Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia, Canada, on KPLU radio in Seattle, KOHO radio in Wenatchee, WA, WNPR radio in Connecticut, KWMR radio in West Marin, California, KTOO radio in Juneau, Alaska, and KMBH radio in Harlingen, Texas. 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 (the calendar and t-shirt look especially fine, and no doubt, they will be adding more items in the future).

Bird Publications News

This week's issue of the Birdbooker Report lists ecology, evolution, natural history and bird books that are (or will soon be) available for purchase. Ian also recently published an article in the magazine, Winging It, about the 50 bird books that every birder should own in their library [free PDF]. Keep an eye on the comments for this blog entry to find more URLs where this PDF is being hosted.

Would you like an avian anatomy book -- free? If so, you can download one, two or all three books as PDFs by going to this entry, where you can read about the books that are available and choose your free copies. 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.

Bird Identification Quizzes

If you are interested to participate in a daily online discossion of bird identification, please go to the Mystery Birds archive. This is a collaborative project featuring with a number of talented bird photographers and written analyses by Rick Wright. It is updated daily, and you are given 48 hours to identify each bird before its identification and an analysis is published. You are also invited to check out the previous Mystery Birds to improve your birding skills.

Miscellaneous Bird News

The naturalists at Hilton Pond described an early November week in San Salvador in their most recent on-line photo essay, during which they were mainly indoors but had one great day in the field when they caught the first two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds ever banded in El Salvador. In "This Week at Hilton Pond", they detail the second half of their Neotropical excursion -- this time a full six days of catching, banding, and observing ruby-throats on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. As you might guess, their results were far more productive; they banded a LOT more ruby-throats -- including the first one for Guatemala -- and caught six other hummingbird species. To properly chronicle their observations and accomplishments, they've included many photos of people, places, plants, and animals, so it may take a moment for the entire page to load.

European starlings and house sparrows may now be on the decline. In their recent publication, "Winter Bird Highlights, 2007-08" [free PDF], Cornell Lab of Ornithology states that reports of starlings in Canada have declined since 1990. Starlings were reported at 65 percent of feeders in 1990, but only at 58% of feeders in 2008. House sparrows were reported at 65 perent of feeders in 1990, and only at 50 percent of feeders in 2008. In the United Kingdom, there has been an even more precipitous decline of house sparrows, which have declined 62% in the last twenty-five years.

The public can comment on additional analysis done on the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge's [near Olympia, Washington State] proposed waterfowl hunt program. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has prepared a supplement to provide additional information and analysis regarding the cumulative impacts of opening the Nisqually refuge to waterfowl hunting in 2009. The waterfowl hunt program was described and analyzed in a comprehensive management plan prepared by the refuge staff in 2004, said Jean Takekawa, refuge manager. "One of the key issues was the waterfowl hunting issue. We came up with a plan to allow that opportunity. This would allow us to create a formal hunting opportunity and eliminate confusion for hunters," Takekawa said.

Faith-based birders will be pleased to know that Allan Mueller thinks he saw the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker last year. The wildlife biologist wants to make sure of it this winter. Mueller plans to head back into the swamps of eastern Arkansas with a scaled-back search team consisting of 26 volunteers and three expert field biologists. Although three previous searches involved more volunteers, more scientists and more time in the woods, Mueller feels confident he and his team will get results. "We're going to find a big black and white woodpecker," he says flatly. [GrrlScientist comment: Unless they bring back DNA evidence of their finding, along with video and photographs or audio recordings, I'd be more convinced that they have been smoking a little too much weed out there in those swamps.]

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Bill, Ian, Rick, 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!


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I've had a rather chatty little crowd of house sparrows hanging around my feeder and table alot in the last few months.
Sadly, sparrows FEEDING can not necessarily be taken as a sign of sparrows BREEDING.

How intriguing that European starlings and house sparrows appear to be declining in their introduced range. Sigh.

Things in North America must really be in pretty bad shape if even these adaptable urban birds are in trouble. Maybe the same problems impacting the songbirds is having an effect on starlings and sparrows. Or is the decline of these foreign invaders ultimately a good thing for the natives?

Great picture of the Anna's Hummingbird.

We had a very similar one nesting at our place east of Seattle this year. Unfortunately, I did not get any pics that were good enough for identification.

wow, steve, thanks for noticing! and i didn't know you live in the Seattle area, how wonderful for you!