Birds in the News 146

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The cassowary, Casuarius casuarius,
is a large, flightless bird that is native to Australia and New Guinea.
Image: Orphaned [larger view].


Canaries in Our Coal Mine
Common birds are in decline across the world, providing evidence of a rapid deterioration in the global environment that is affecting all life on earth — including human life. All the world’s governments have committed themselves to slowing or halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010. But reluctance to commit what are often trivial sums in terms of national budgets means that this target is almost certain to be missed. “Birds provide an accurate and easy to read environmental barometer, allowing us to see clearly the pressures our current way of life are putting on the world’s biodiversity”, said Dr Mike Rands, the CEO of BirdLife.
People Hurting Birds
East Sister Island was once a thriving sanctuary for plants, snakes and birds. Lush forest that supported a variety of wildlife covered the uninhabited Canadian island near the U.S. border on Lake Erie. Then the double-crested cormorants moved in. The large, black water birds formed colonies of thousands. Their droppings, which have high concentrations of nitrates, began killing the trees and the plants on the forest floor. Today, the island is a mass of dead trees. Although other species of birds — including colonial waders like black-crowned night herons, great blue herons and great egrets — nest there, cormorants have become the dominant bird. “Everything has been destroyed,” said Chip Weseloh, head of wildlife toxicology for the Canadian Wildlife Service. “It’s a massive devastation.” GrrlScientist comment: I wonder what all these natural areas did before humans were here to shoot and kill undesirable species and fix everything so it conforms to our own standards of beauty and value?
Adult seabirds in Scotland have launched brutal attacks on chicks in nearby nests, sometimes pecking to death the fledglings or just flinging them from cliff ledges. The ferocious attacks were documented in a study announced recently. “The attacks were brutal and usually involved more than one adult as chicks fled from the initial attacking neighbor,” said lead researcher Kate Ashbrook of the University of Leeds in England. The cause of the peck attacks can be traced to food shortages in the area where the common guillemots live, the study scientists suggest. Common Murres, Uria aalge, are attentive parents, rearing just one chick during the breeding season.
Several pairs of eagle owls, the largest owls in the world, are now breeding in the wild in Britain, according to a new study. But it is unlikely they will ever be considered British birds as they escaped from a large pool of birds kept in captivity. With its prominent ear tufts, 6ft wingspan and its ability to kill birds as large as herons and animals as big as roe deer, the eagle owl is one of the most remarkable birds in Europe, nesting from Spain in the south to Russia in the north, but has always been absent from Britain.
People Helping Birds
They arrive each evening on the wing — and on foot, with cameras, binoculars, picnic blankets and awe. Thousands of Vaux’s swifts, and the people who have come to love them, are converging each evening at a chimney of an elementary school in Monroe, Washington state, as one of the great migrations of the season progresses. By the tens of thousands, Vaux’s (pronounced “voxes”) swifts are making their way from southeast Alaska, Canada and the Pacific Northwest to Mexico, Central America and Venezuela, stopping along the way. “We’d been hearing about it, and we saw everyone lining up to look and thought, we can’t be missing it this time,” said Jeri Porcaro, who brought her four children to watch one evening last week. Eyes up, necks craned, they watched with wonder as the sunset light gilded the bellies of the birds wheeling and turning overheard.
Red Kite numbers in Britain have soared to their highest for a century after a bumper breeding season. Once completely eradicated from England and Scotland, a concerted program protecting breeding pairs and relocating young birds has seen numbers rise considerably. It is Britain’s third-largest bird and there are now an estimated 1,200 breeding pairs. [story includes streaming video]
Birdwatchers take note: About half of the Albany Pine Bush was recently named as NY state’s newest bird conservation area. Chris Hawver, executive director of the Pine Bush Preserve Commission, said the designation for more than 1,500 acres shows that taxpayer money used to create and run the preserve has improved habitats for birds and also could mean more state aid. “We are now seeing birds in the preserve that had not been previously seen there for decades,” he said. “And there is evidence that they also are breeding there.”
The European Commission has sent a final letter of warning to Romania for not designating enough sites as special protection areas for migratory and vulnerable wild birds. The Commission says that, to meet the terms of the EU’s 1979 bird directive, Romania must designate an additional 21 sites on top of the 108 that it has already set aside as special protection areas (SPAs). The Romanian authorities now have two months to submit evidence to the Commission proving they are taking action. If they fail to do so, the Commission could take Romania to the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court.
Endangered Bird News
A workshop on conservation of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis, Geronticus eremita, has concluded that the Palmyra Island birds should be supplemented with juveniles taken from the expanding semi-wild population at Birecik, Turkey. The meeting was held in Palmyra, Syria, near the site where a relict population of the bird was discovered in 2002. “Thorough discussions on potential for supplementation of Northern Bald Ibis from other colonies were conducted, and risks involved were elaborated,” said Dr Akram Eissa Darwish, Chairman of the Syrian Society for the Conservation of Wildlife. “Participants concluded that this is an urgently needed step, provided that experts offer their technical knowledge and apply the suitable methodology. The final decision from participants was to establish a captive breeding colony at Palmyra, to act as a ready-established option for supplementation, and to promote ecotourism in the area.”
The forest officials in Madhya Pradesh have gone into an alert following the death of near extinct a great Indian bustard after having recovered it in a critical condition from a forest. The great Indian bustard, locally known as ‘Son Chiriya’, is found in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The bird is on the verge of extinction and its current population is estimated at less than 1,000. Madhya Pradesh is reportedly said to have been left with less than twenty birds despite steps taken by the government to protect this rare species. “A team has been put in place to conduct necessary tests in the laboratory. Some problem has been detected in the stomach, but there is no problem in the lungs. There are no traces of infection in the area, but I think the dead bird had suffered from paralysis in its legs and wings,” said Dr. A. K Mittal, a doctor.
Over 800 endangered Asian openbill storks were killed and several hundred injured when a century-old banyan tree on which they were nesting collapsed in the night. “We have counted 800 dead birds and the number is rising,” wildlife warden Arup Ballab Goswami told The Telegraph from Banglung Shyam village in Karbi Anglong district. A rescue team from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) near Kaziranga is treating the injured birds, most of which have broken wings or legs and are critical. The casualties were so heavy because the birds were “drowsy” at night and also because they have relatively slow reflexes, said Kula Jyoti Lahkar, an ornithologist with the Bombay Natural History Society. “They were crushed under the branches,” he said from Mumbai.
Streaming Birds
On BirdNote, for the week of 21 September 2008. BirdNotes is really taking off! As of this week, 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].
Bird Book 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. There’s a couple books on the list that I already have received and believe me, you’ll want to read them, too!
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.
Miscellaneous Bird News
It was inevitable that after 10-plus inches of rain from Hurricane Fay, fungi would pop up all over Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History. Little did the naturalists there know, however, there would be a veritable “Mushroom Rainbow,” with all sorts of unusual shades and hues. To view their photo essay about this amazing spectrum of fungal color, please visit the 8-14 September 2008 installment of This Week at Hilton Pond. As always, they include a list of birds banded and recaptured during the period, plus miscellaneous nature notes and a mug shot of a Worm-eating Warbler.
The UK’s smallest seabird has colonised a Welsh island for the first time, a nature warden has discovered. Greg Morgan has recorded proof that the European Storm-Petrel is breeding on Ramsey Island off the Pembrokeshire coast after taping the birds’ call.
He tricked the little birds into responding by playing a tape of bird calls near to the nests. Mr Morgan said: “Storm petrels nest underground in burrows and inside rock crevices so we use a recently developed method of checking whether a potential nest site is occupied. We play a tape-recording of the male bird’s call at the entrance and listen for a response.”
Many birds have died in the Bac Lieu Sanctuary in Nha Mat ward, Bac Lieu town, Bac Lieu province recently, said officials of the local Veterinary Department. An official of the sanctuary said some days they see nearly 30 birds die in the sanctuary and the reason has not been determined yet. Most of the dead birds are cormorants. Veterinarian workers have sprayed decontaminants in the sanctuary. Dead birds have been tested but tests are negative for the bird flu virus.
Why did the chicken cross 125th Street? That’s what some Harlem (NYC) residents are trying to figure out. Last Thursday, a bunch of chickens and a big white turkey suddenly appeared near the corner of 125th Street and Second Avenue and promptly began pecking around in traffic. The chickens were loosely gathered in a vacant lot next to the gas station on the northwest corner, but they were hardly confined to the lot. They roamed the gas station and strayed all over the sidewalk and the street. They darted in front of traffic and generally amused passers-by and the people waiting at the nearby bus stop. “You see a new group every so often,” said Monique Dudley, a paraprofessional for the Department of Education who watched the chickens as she waited for the crosstown bus and began taking photographs of the chickens with her phone, to send to friends.
A foul-mouthed parrot is telling visitors to a zoo to “f*** off.” Max the African Grey parrot blurts out the obscenity at South Park birdhouse in Darlington, Co Durham, UK, after he was donated by a previous owner who became fed up with his language. The five-year-old can also mimic car alarms and mobile phone ringtones. “His favourite trick is to stick his head in a tin cup in his cage and then swear. He seems to know it makes a louder sound,” said keeper Peter Hansom.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Bob, Caren, Paulette, Ian, Diane, 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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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Birds in the News 146

  1. Hai~Ren says:

    I think the article which claims that the eagle owl “has always been absent from Britain” might be somewhat inaccurate, since eagle owls were present in Britain during the Pleistocene, and may have died out much later than once thought. The old Tetrapod Zoology has the relevant info:
    http://darrennaish.blogspot.com/2006/02/eagle-owls-take-over-britain.html
    http://darrennaish.blogspot.com/2006/06/british-eagle-owls-update.html