Birds in the News 161

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Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Leucosticte tephrocotis,
photographed at Meadows Campground, Hart's Pass,
in the Okanagan of Washington State.

Image: Lee Rentz, 19 October 2008.

Birds in Science

The unusually intact fossilized skull of a giant, bony-toothed seabird that lived up to 10 million years ago was found on Peru's arid southern coast, researchers said. The fossil is the best-preserved cranium ever found of a pelagornithid, a family of large seabirds believed to have gone extinct some 3 million years ago, said Rodolfo Salas, head of vertebrate paleontology at Peru's National History Museum. The museum said in a statement that the birds had wingspans of up to 20 feet (6 meters) and may have used the toothlike projections on their beaks to prey on slippery fish and squid. But studying members of the Pelagornithidae family has been difficult because their extremely thin bones -- while helpful for keeping the avian giants aloft -- tended not to survive as fossils. "Its fossils are very strange, very rare and very hard to find," Salas said.

Ken Dial at The University of Montana has unveiled a major new theory for the evolution of flight that is changing textbooks around the world. It involves wing-assisted incline running and a fundamental bird wing angle. Using high-speed cameras, Dial and two graduate students documented how birds change the angle of their wings as they gain altitude, glide, descend or run up steep surfaces. "I never lost my little-kid attitude of 'Daddy, how does the world work? What's under this rock? How did this thing come to be?'" Dial said. "I became greatly interested in vertebrate design and evolution -- how things with backbones are put together. Everything from a fish to a bat to a whale is related, and how could that be? How could they move and have similar muscles and bones and some be the size of an eraser and some the size of a building? That is a terribly exciting thing to think about."

People Hurting Birds

Thousands of California brown pelicans postponed migrating south last year, leading researchers to believe that climate change might have fooled the birds into staying north longer than normal. Researchers at a bird rescue center near Los Angeles harbor say the hypothesis emerged after testing dozens of sick, disoriented and frostbitten pelicans that turned up in December and January.

People Helping Birds

At Seattle's Sea-Tac Airport, an experimental radar system monitors a threat to the nation's aircrafts that goes largely unnoticed: birds. Birds frequently fly into airplanes, and as it became frighteningly clear last month when such a collision disabled a jet in New York, forcing the pilot to crash-land in the Hudson River, though birds may be small, they can cause serious damage. While many of the nation's airports defend against flocking birds with crude scare tactics, such as explosives and noise markers, airport wildlife biologist Steve Osmek is testing the nation's first Avian Radar. "We set up alarm zones, we set up alert areas, and so, when you have birds that are flying through, the software alerts us. It can either send me an e-mail [or] it can call my cell phone," Osmek said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced plans to conduct a study that will examine whether steady-burning sidelights on tall communications towers, which attract birds and cause them to collide with the towers during night migration, can be safely eliminated without endangering air traffic. Unlike many waterfowl and birds of prey, most songbirds migrate during the night, with up to several billion birds having to navigate a landscape littered with as many as 100,000 lighted towers each spring and fall. American Bird Conservancy and its conservation partners have been working together with the communications industry in seeking this important study, which will help determine whether the safety of pilots can be maintained while also reducing the impact of lights on migrating birds.

West Coast fishermen are voluntarily taking measures to stop the accidental killing of seabirds that can be snared on the hooks of long-line fishing boats. The Fishing Vessel Owners' Association (FVOA), which represents longlining captains in the halibut and sablefish fisheries along the West Coast, has instructed its members to use streamer lines when longline fishing in Washington, Oregon, and California waters. "We greatly appreciate this voluntary action on the part of FVOA, and are eager to see other fishermen's associations follow suit," said Jessica Hardesty, American Bird Conservancy's Seabird Program Director. "Now that we have developed effective and inexpensive bycatch reduction measures, it is important to tailor them to new fisheries where they can save bird lives."

Birds Helping People

Brian Wilson, from Damascus, Maryland, suffered life-threatening injuries in an accident 14 years ago. He also lost his ability to speak. But he now claims that the chatter of pet parrots confounded the bleak outlook of doctors, who were convinced that he would spend the rest of his life in bed at a nursing home. "Two birds taught me to talk again," he said. "I had such a bad head injury I was never supposed to talk any more than a two-year-old."

Endangered Bird News

A seven-year effort to return thick-billed parrots to the pine forests of Arizona where they once thrived has failed because birds raised in captivity floundered in the wild, quickly becoming prey for hawks. Some of the birds starved, others succumbed to disease, but most were eaten by predators, often within 48 hours of their release. Researchers have suspended the project, saying they are uncertain whether any of the 88 parrots released in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona from 1986 to 1993 survived.

A bird which was once extinct in Britain has been released at a Lancashire nature reserve. The black and gold coloured bittern -- one of around only 75 in the country -- was spotted wandering around the Station Road area of Bamber Bridge last month. The underweight bird was looked after by the RSPCA and released at RSPB Leighton Moss at Silverdale near Carnforth on Friday. Robin Horner, site manager, said: "The bittern is certainly one of the UK's rarest birds and it's wonderful that this one has been found and released back into the wild."

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, began a crane-breeding scheme in 2007. The metre-high bird was extinct in the UK for four centuries and now only has a tenuous foothold in Britain. The Somerset Levels have been identified as the best location to release the cranes when they have matured. The WWT's crane-breeding program involved a crane "school", in which chicks were raised by keepers wearing crane suits and fed using customized crane head litter pickers to prevent them becoming used to humans. Patrick Capper, chief executive of Taunton-based Viridor Credits, which provided the grant, said he hoped the project would act as a beacon for conservation activity across the UK.

A study has found evidence the legally protected Dartford Warbler could be nesting on a site next to the beach. It means plans for 131 luxury flats overlooking the nudist beach in Eastney, Portsmouth, Hants, UK, are now on hold until developers Qinetiq carry out a full bird survey. "Our consultants found evidence of the Dartford Warbler and other protected species, and concluded a breeding bird survey was needed as part of the application," said head of planning John Slater.

The world's smartest parrot, New Zealand's notoriously cheeky kea, is edging closer to extinction, according to conservationists who warn the species is under "severe stress". The unique alpine bird, found only in the country's cool South Island, is in population decline, with the Kea Conservation Trust fearing there could be as few as 1,000 left in the wild. "We've revised this down to between 1,000 and 5,000 now, which shows these special birds are under more serious threat than we thought," said trust chairwoman Tamsin Orr-Walker. "This indicates the population is under some severe stress, which is worrying to say the least."

A valuable parrot stolen from a Warrnambool breeder's backyard aviary has been returned safely to its owner. The bird, one of a rare pair valued at $25,000, was discovered by Connemara Road resident Lois Smart after it landed at her front door recently. "I thought it was my cat because it comes around and jumps on the screen door so I yelled at it," Mrs Smart said. The parrot, a Golden (Queen of Bavaria) conure, is native to Brazil and is endangered in the wild and rare in captivity. They are noted for their bright yellow plumage and dark green wing tips.

Western Australia's endangered Western Ground Parrot is headed the way of the Dodo, a national survey has found. The State of Australia's Birds 2008, compiled by Australia's oldest bird conservation group Birds Australia, reveals the critically endangered parrot is now extinct at two sites. The only apparently stable population is at a third site, in Cape Arid National Park, near Esperance.

Many native Australian bird species are declining. Birds of garden, water, scrub and woodland are showing marked falls in their populations says a new report by Birds Australia. The encouraging news is that the status of some species is improving as a result of conservation action. This is the sixth The State of Australia's Birds report, and presents an up-to-date overview of the health of bird populations in Australia and the main challenges to their sustainability. This 2008 report focuses on trends in bird populations revealed by around 50 long-term monitoring programs that have been running for up to 40 years. "Many, and perhaps most, of our native birds are in decline for a range of reasons including habitat loss and introduced predators", said Dr Graeme Hamilton, Birds Australia CEO.

Birding News

The Sam Veasna Center in Siem Reap has been driving people wild since 2006, and introducing naturalists, enthusiasts and tourists to wilderness areas in and around northern Cambodia has paid off. The tours to see Cambodia's lost birds, and to experience what may be the swan song of several critically endangered species, are so successful that the center, previously sustained by the Wildlife Conservation Society, became financially self-sufficient at the end of last year, and this year has started to feed money back to the society that nurtured it. "Only recently have birders started noting what's going on. New birds are being added to the Cambodia list each year," said Ace birdwatcher Howie Nielsen. "Sam Veasna guides are seeing birds and back in New York, people are saying 'They saw what?'"

Avian Zoonotics News

Scientists in Hong Kong and the United States have developed an experimental H5N1 bird flu vaccine for people by piggybacking it on the well-tested and highly successful smallpox vaccine. Initial tests on mice showed the vaccine to be highly effective, they told a news conference in Hong Kong. "It produced a lot of (H5N1) antibodies and the speed of antibody response was far higher with this strategy than the Sanofi one," said Malik Peiris, a microbiologist and bird flu expert at the University of Hong Kong.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been detected among domestic poultry in India and Vietnam, and in humans in Vietnam, China, and Egypt.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 1 March 2009. 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. They sent a calendar to me and it's beautiful (especially the January bird, which is a gorgeous cedar waxwing).

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 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, written by Rick Wright, for identifying that particular species.

Volunteer Bird Projects

The North American Bird Phenology Program is working to understand the scale of global climate change and how it is affecting birds across North America. This is the oldest and longest running bird monitoring program in the United States, currently housing six million records dating back to the early 1880's. The program, started in 1880 by Wells W. Cooke, collected bird observations by over 3,000 citizen scientists and came to an end in 1970, until the program was revived last year. The records document bird migration arrival and departure dates from around North America; an unparalleled and untapped resource, but one which BPP needs your help to modernize. The BPP online data entry system is seeking volunteers from around the world to begin transcribing historical bird arrival records into the BPP online database. If you want to help, please register here.

Miscellaneous Bird News

A Louisiana woman is accused of trading two young children in her care for a pet cockatoo and $175 cash from a couple who had been trying for years to have their own child, authorities said. Donna Greenwell, 53, a long-haul trucker with an arrest record from Pitkin, is charged with aggravated kidnapping, along with would-be adoptive parents Paul J. Romero, 46, and Brandy Lynn Romero, 27, of Evangeline Parish.

The bird lady of Oyster Bay, Australia, Kris Stanley, has had some star treatment for her rare and colorful Eclectus parrot, Harry, who was developing a nasty habit of pulling out his feathers. "He is such a beautiful bird and I was getting really worried about him,'' Kris said. "Dr Brown prescribed Prozac for Harry, which I think must be a first for television." Prozac is an antidepressant drug often used to treat conditions such as bulimia and anorexia in humans and feather plucking in parrots.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Sandy, Dot, Ian, Bob, Hilary, 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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The Thick-billed Parrot reintro project was suspended way back in 1995, as the date on the linked article indicates. There have been some significant gains in protection of the northern Mexican populations, though, so maybe someday it'll be revived.

ridwanzero, unless I ask all my friends, contacts, and associates not to bother "clicking in" to`your spammed URL

By David Hilmy (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink

oops! well, i removed that spam, david, but you were faster in responding than i was in deleting by 9 minutes. better luck next time, i guess.

LOL, feel free to delete the whole exchange!

By David Hilmy (not verified) on 01 Feb 2010 #permalink