Birds in the News 167

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The only egg known to be collected by Charles Darwin, recently rediscovered.

Image: University of Cambridge.

Birds and American Law

The American Federation of Aviculture Inc. (AFA), the Avicultural Society of America (ASA) and the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) issued an action alert together that opposes H.R. 669, a bill banning most nonnative animals in the United States. "H.R. 669 is an 'anti-animal bill'. There is no amendment that can fix this bill," states the action alert. H.R. 669 is a bill that bans possession, import or export to the United States, transport between states or breeding of nonnative animal species in the United States. H.R. 669 excludes some animals from this possible ban, including dogs, cats, horses, goldfish, domestic rabbits and some farm animals. [HR669 text and a free PDF] GrrlScientist comment: Wow, imagine that; parrot owners and breeders, such as me, will soon be considered to be federal criminals.

Birds in Science and Technology

For millennia, people have watched the birds and bees and wondered: "How do they do that?" Thanks to high-speed film and some persistent scientists, at least one of the secrets of flight is now revealed. When birds, bats or bugs make a turn, all they have to do is start flapping their wings normally again and they straighten right out. That came as a surprise to researchers who thought turning and stopping took more steps. "We didn't expect things to fall out this neatly," he said, particularly since the process is the same for animals of all sizes from the fruit fly to the bat to the cockatoo.

An egg collected by Charles Darwin during his voyage on HMS Beagle has been rediscovered at Cambridge University (see featured image at top). The small dark brown egg, with Darwin's name written on it, was found by a retired volunteer at the university's zoology museum. It bears a large crack, caused after the great naturalist put it in a box that was too small for it. The egg is the only one known to exist from Darwin's Beagle collection. It was spotted one day in February by volunteer Liz Wetton, who spends a day each week sorting eggs in the museum's collection. "It was an exhilarating experience," said Wetton. "After working on the egg collections for 10 years this was a tremendous thing to happen." [includes video and images]

Here's a link to the US Air Force Avian Hazard Advisory System, a system that processes NOAA weather data in real time and uses it to provide bird-aircraft strike risk advisories. The website also shows the processed image loop of bird density data (with most of the weather removed). There also is an image gallery for you to look at. In these images, the yellows indicate lower activity, yellow-orange is moderate and dark orange is high activity. The system uses only the first 64 nm miles of radar data for bird detection, hence the "gaps". Any blue in the image is heavy weather that gets through the weather suppression algorithms. This map is a great reference tool for those planning the next day's birding activities. [Many thanks to Gary W. Andrews, General Manager of DeTect Inc., who emailed information about this system which his developed and operates for the USAF].

People Hurting Birds

Wildlife biologists say a second California condor has been found with pellets embedded in its body, the second bird in a month found shot. Ventana Wildlife Society Director Kelly Sorenson says the endangered condor was trapped recently in Big Sur and is suffering from lead poisoning, likely from eating carrion that had also been shot. When biologists were treating the juvenile female, they found three lead shotgun pellets in its body. The condor was sent to the Los Angeles Zoo for treatment. About three weeks ago lead pellets were discovered in another bird being tested for lead poisoning. That adult male condor is being kept alive with a feeding tube.

A century after the snow goose teetered near extinction, the winged waterfowl are presenting quite a different dilemma for many scientists and nature lovers. There are way too many of them, prompting the federal government to approve expanding hunting methods and a longer season for snow geese in hopes of eventually cutting in half a population that at one time was too small largely because of hunting: Due to current protections, the population has increased 300 percent since the mid-70s, according to federal data.

Bird Strike News

The public has a right to know how often bird strikes occur and how often the strikes compromise the safe operation of a plane. Besides, the Obama administration promised a new era of transparency in government. Apparently, the FAA didn't get or doesn't understand that message. The FAA wants to make reporting bird strikes voluntary rather than mandatory. It also wants to keep any information gathered a secret. The agency argues, unpersuasively, that going public with vast amounts of data might lead to misuse of the information. Translation: The public won't use airports or airlines that report high rates of bird strikes. That might be true, but those who fly should have useful information at hand when they make decisions.

A United Airlines jet headed from Sacramento to Chicago made an emergency return landing at Sacramento International Airport Thursday afternoon after striking a bird during takeoff.

Domestic Bird News

A pet African Grey parrot has been returned to its original owner after an unusual court battle in Florida. The bird, called Tequila, escaped from its original owner three years ago and was found and kept by another woman living nearby. The two met by chance and discovered the connection. A court battle ensued and the parrot was eventually returned to the original owner. [includes video of judge's decision and the bird after being reunited with her original owner]

Avian Zoonotics and Disease News

Maine game officials say a large number of birds have been reported sick or dead at feeders across the southern and central portions of the state. Mortality at feeders is not uncommon at this time of the year, but it can be alarming to people, who have been calling the state wildlife department and Maine Audubon and taking sick birds to wildlife rehabilitators. Officials say homeowners should clean bird feeders with a bleach-water mix to reduce birds' salmonella risk.

The FDA has approved a rapid test that can detect avian influenza A/H5N1 infection in humans in about 40 minutes. The new test quickly identifies a key protein, NS1, in throat or nose swabs. Currently available tests take about three to four hours. The test, AVantage A/H5N1, is manufactured by Arbor Vita Corporation of Sunnyvale, California.

The recent series of H5N1 avian influenza cases in Egyptian children yet very few in adults has raised concern that some Egyptians may be getting infected without getting sick, according to a Reuters news report published recently. John Jabbour, a World Health Organization (WHO) emerging diseases specialist based in Cairo, said the Egyptian government and the WHO are planning a study to find out if subclinical or asymptomatic cases have been occurring. The occurrence of asymptomatic cases is worrisome because it could give the undetected virus more time to mutate in human hosts. "If there is any subclinical case in Egypt, the aim is to treat immediately to stop the reproduction of the virus," he said. "Because whether [through] mutation or reassortment, this will lead to the pandemic strain."

A Japanese study has found H5N1 bird flu antibodies in 10 of 988 raccoons captured since 2005. The finding marks the first time that the antibodies, signs of previous bird flu infection, have been found in mammals in the country. The researchers are calling for countermeasures as the infected raccoons may transmit the virus to farm chickens.

H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in humans in Egypt and Vietnam.


The birds inside eggs, days or perhaps hours from hatching, aren't the only ones with eagle eyes. Thousands of Internet surfers from around the world are flocking to the Hancock Wildlife Foundation's Web site to watch live streaming video of a pair of bald eagle eggs in this Vancouver suburb. Two cameras mounted near the nest first caught the mother laying eggs in February. With the eaglets ready to emerge any time now, more and more viewers are going online to watch for the slightest sign of their arrival. "We call ourselves eagleholics because most of us really are," said Karen Bills, Hancock's project coordinator [live eagle cam].

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 12 April 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.

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].

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 master birder 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

The naturalists at Hilton Pond are reporting in again, writing that "second half of March brought many signs of spring to Hilton Pond Center, from terminal buds to wildflowers to tender foliage. We also caught a migratory bird more closely aligned with winter than the vernal equinox." You can learn more about these events from their recent "This Week at Hilton Pond" photoessay, which includes images of this bird and of numerous ways plants respond to spring's longer, warmer days. They also include a list of all birds they banded, including the large number of "old" recaptures that entered their traps.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Christine, TravelGirl, Bill, 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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