Birds in the News 147

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Red-crowned Amazon parrot, Amazona viridigenalis, at Elizabeth Street Parrotry, Brownsville, Texas.
Image: Joseph Kennedy, 7 April 2008 [larger view].
Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/750s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.


Birds in Science
Scientists have found a new huge and well-preserved fossil of a goose and duck relative that swam around what is now England 50 million years ago flashing sharp, toothy smiles. The skull, discovered on the Isle of Sheppey off the southeast coast of England in the Thames Estuary, belonged to a huge ancient bird in the extinct genus Dasornis, which had a whopping 16-foot (5-meter) wingspan. “Imagine a bird like an ocean-going goose almost the size of a small plane!” said Gerald Mayr of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany and a member of the team that studied the skull. “By today’s standards, these were pretty bizarre animals, but perhaps the strangest thing about them is that they had sharp, tooth-like projections along the cutting edges of the beak.”
The latest breakthrough in a 120 year-old debate on the evolution of the bird wing was published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, October 3, by Alexander Vargas and colleagues at Yale University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Bird wings only have three fingers, having evolved from remote ancestors that, like humans and most reptiles, had five fingers. Biologists have typically used embryology to identify the evolutionary origin (homology) of structures; the three fingers of the bird wing develop from cartilage condensations that are found in the same positions in the embryo as fingers two, three and four of humans (the index, middle and ring fingers). However, the morphology of the fingers of early birds such as Archaeopteryx corresponds to that of fingers one, two and three in other reptiles (thumb, index and middle finger). The fossil record clearly shows that fingers four and five (ring and pinky finger) were lost and reduced in the dinosaur ancestors of birds.
A newly found South American dinosaur may have had flesh-ripping teeth, but it had the lungs of a bird, scientists announced recently. Found in Mendoza Province, Argentina, Aerosteon riocoloradensis lived 85 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The elephant-size dinosaur’s breathing system may help scientists better understand the evolution of avian lungs and air sacs. In birds, bellows-like sacs pump air through the lungs. Includes gorgeous images.
Justice –At Last
A judge sentences 1 of 3 minors responsible for killing birds at an Emporia zoo in Nebraska to 30 days in juvenile custody. Also Thursday, Lyon County District Judge Lee Fowler sentenced the 13-year-old boy to two years of juvenile probation.
A federal magistrate has found Apollo Energies and Dale Walker, doing business as Red Cedar Oil, guilty of violating the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren announced. Federal law requires oilfield companies to secure equipment to keep migratory birds from becoming trapped in exhaust stacks and louvered openings. Violations are misdemeanors with a maximum penalty of six months in federal prison and a fine of up to $15,000 on each count.
People Hurting Birds
A state appeals court has upheld an earlier ruling that rejected a lawsuit brought by an environmental group against wind-turbine operators in the Altamont Pass for the killing of raptors and other birds. In a recent decision, the Court of Appeal in San Francisco dismissed the lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, saying while members of the public may sue under the “public trust doctrine” to protect wildlife, they may sue only government agencies and not private parties.
Police are calling it the mystery of the oily gulls. For the past few days, grease-covered gulls have been appearing along the Maine waterfront and in the yards of nearby residences. Five have been captured and turned over to a bird rehabilitation center, but sightings of others continue to be reported. “We had complaints about sick birds and we found three that appear to be covered with oil,” Police Chief Jeffrey Trafton said. “They can’t fly. You can walk right up to them and they don’t run.”
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett has sidestepped pleas to halt plans to log southern Tasmania’s forests which would threaten the survival of one of Australia’s rarest parrots. Birds Australia, Australia’s biggest science-based conservation group, has called on Mr Garrett to take urgent action to stop woodchip logging from destroying food trees and nesting hollows in a key breeding area for the endangered swift parrot. The parrots, rarer than China’s giant panda or Borneo’s orang-utans, are listed by the World Conservation Union in its Red Book of globally endangered species. Fewer than 1000 pairs of swift parrots remain in the wild, and hundreds of the blossom-feeding birds have arrived in Wielangta’s tall eucalypt forest, flying in over Bass Strait from the mainland’s dry inland and coastal woodlands. It’s the longest migration route of any parrot species, and the birds are often seen in Canberra during their brief stopovers.
Conservation groups have criticised Malta for failing to stop “rogue” hunters killing protected bird species. During a two-week monitoring program, BirdLife Malta said it treated 17 birds of prey suffering from gunshot wounds. “On good days for migration, when several hundred birds of prey pass through, the hunters are stirred into frenzy – desperate to shoot as many as possible, even within protected areas,” said Grahame Madge, from the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). “To anyone who has not seen it for themselves, the scale of the slaughter beggars belief.”
People Helping Birds
An amendment [PDF] to Mexico’s wildlife laws will impose a new permanent ban on parrot sales in Mexico. Conservationists hope that this new law will protect Mexico’s 22 parrot species from a thriving illegal wildlife trade. Between 65,000 and 78,000 parrots are captured illegally each year, and most die before they are sold. Only 2 percent of trafficked parrots are confiscated by government officials each year.
Conservationists from all over Africa and other parts of the world have strongly urged the Government of Tanzania to ensure the protection of Lake Natron. The site is the world’s most important breeding site for Lesser Flamingos, Phoeniconaias minor. In a resolution unanimously passed during the closing day, the meeting noted that the lake is uniquely suitable for Lesser Flamingo nesting because of the chemical composition of the water, the presence of a suitable substrate for nest construction, and very effective isolation from disturbance by humans and predators.
Rare Birds News
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposes to add 48 species (including 2 bird species) found only on the island of Kaua’i to the federal endangered species list, it announced recently. The proposal is the first time the agency has applied a newly developed, ecosystem-based approach to species conservation, officials said in a telephone news conference. “Kaua’i, the oldest island of the main Hawaiian Islands, has been called a ‘treasure trove of biodiversity’ and is believed to house the greatest diversity of plants in the state,” said Patrick Leonard, Fish & Wildlife Service field supervisor for the Pacific Islands. “Therefore, it is appropriate that we begin this new approach to listing species and designating critical habitat in Kaua’i.”
In the Solomon Islands it is rare to find a yellow parrot when the common ones are either green or red. However, recently in Santa Cruz, Temotu Province, in the far east of the Solomon Islands, a yellow rainbow lory was discovered. George Mepirke of the Bay area in Santa Cruz stated that he was “shocked to have seen a yellow parrot among the common red and green ones. It was such a big thrill to have found this rare Veli!” (story includes image).
Avian Zoonotics News
This is a well-written and informative article about the flu and flu immunizations that you must read.
Now, new research by scientists in New York and Taiwan has led to a DNA vaccine with the potential to stop most strains of H5N1 flu viruses in their tracks. David D. Ho, Rockefeller’s Irene Diamond Professor and scientific director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, together with his colleagues at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, has built a vaccine that stimulates immunity to a broad range of H5N1 viruses in mice by using DNA rather than dead virus particles grown in eggs. Such a vaccine, which consists of plasmid DNA that’s been genetically modified to elicit specific immune responses, is much easier to rapidly modify and produce — critical advantages when racing to prevent an epidemic.
Not only are doctors, nurses, and firefighters essential during a severe pandemic influenza outbreak. So, too, are truck drivers, communications personnel, and utility workers. That’s the conclusion of a Johns Hopkins University article to be published in the journal of Biosecurity and Bioterrorism.
H5N1 Avian Influenza has been identified in domestic birds in Togo and is suspected in domestic birds in South Korea.
Streaming Birds
On BirdNote, for the week of 5 October 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
This is an interesting story about a great blue heron, named “Nasty”, that ruled the Loch Lomond Marina sportfishing and fuel dock in the Swinomish Indian reservation in the Puget Sound. Also included in this story was Sylvester, a black-crowned night-heron, and Willy, the delicate but wily snowy egret.
Conservationists observed a flock of over 100 sacred ibises on fallow farmland in the southern county of Tainan, Taiwan, after residents reported what they thought was a big group of black-faced spoonbills resting on the land. Tainan County has a wild bird conservation wetland where the migratory spoonbills, an endangered species of wading bird, spend the winter every year.
These amazing pictures show how cruel nature can sometimes be as a grey heron snacks on a rabbit. Herons mainly eat fish but will also take birds and small mammals. This one was searching for a meal when it spotted the baby rabbit emerging from a hole. Swooping down it grabbed its prey by the ears, took it to water and drowned it — then swallowed the rabbit whole.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Scott, Bob, Caren, 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 147

  1. Dima says:

    The picture of the red Amazon parrot is beautiful. He reminds me of my parrot that is also red, green, and is more talented than any pet I have ever seen. With only a week and a half away from the deadline, I entered a video to WebVet.com for their Birds on Broadway Contest. This should surely win because I’m sure no one else will have their parrot singing in Spanish and grooving to rapper Pitbull’s “The Anthem”!