Birds in the News 151

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This Eurasian Blue Tit, Cyanistes caeruleus,
is from the photographer’s ancestral village of Rintoul,
near Kinross, which is north of the Firth of Forth,
about 20 miles from Edinburgh, Scotland.
Image: Dave Rintoul, August 2008.

Birds in Science
At 14 years old, Spencer Hardy has solved an avian mystery and discovered significant evidence for the only bird other than a penguin to incubate its eggs on glacial ice. Hardy’s geoscientist father, Douglas, was stationed in southeastern Peru at the Quelccaya Ice Cap in the Andes for long-term research on climate change. He was studying glacier melting rates when his son, in sixth-grader at home in Vermont at the time, identified White-winged Diuca Finches, Diuca speculifera, from his father’s photographs taken from the site. Spencer started to realize that these birds could be responsible for mysterious nesting sites his father had found scattered along the edge of a glacier. “Since he was seven, Spencer’s always had a fascination with studying birds and their different species,” said Douglas Hardy, who works with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Climate Systems Research Center. Spencer’s expertise was sharpened recently when he wrote a report on patterns of change among bird species, based on data in a Vermont bird atlas. GrrlScientist comment: I’ve already linked to this story last week, but this particular version includes images of the nests, so I had to include it again.
People Hurting Birds
Picture windows that enable us to enjoy nature from the comfort of our homes can be deadly to the birds we love to watch. And that’s putting it mildly. Ornithologists estimate that in North America alone, 100 million to 1 billion birds a year are killed in collisions with windows or towers, said Laura Erickson, science editor for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. That’s about twice the carnage caused by free-roaming cats, and maybe a thousand times the toll taken by hunters.
Birds Helping People
The wonder of bird migration recently united two communities separated by water, culture and religion. At an event coorganized by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, the people of Anjar and Kfar Zabad villages jointly celebrated the cultural importance of bird migration as part of BirdLife’s World Bird Festival. “It is important to overcome political, and religious differences and meet on the protection of nature and biodiversity”, announced Ramzi Saidi, President of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon. “This event is a success story to prove that nature and birds are able to combine people together,” added Dalia Al-jawhary, site manager for Hima Kfar Zabad.
People Helping Birds
Researchers are struggling to find the cause for appalling deformities being spotted among birds in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Grotesquely misshapen and overgrown beaks are turning up, most commonly among birds of prey and crows. Living and dead birds are providing clues to a stubborn avian mystery. “It [a red-tailed hawk’s beak] is more than twice the length that it should be,” said Senior veterinary student Sara Manthey. “Yeah, very abnormal. She’s getting to the point that she really can’t even eat the bite size pieces that we’re giving her now.” This bird was starving to death when passersby rescued it outside Seattle. Manthey arranged for the hawk to be transferred to Washington State University’s Raptor Center in Pullman. Story includes images.
Rare Birds News
Only 300 blue-throated macaws still survive in the wild, but this critically endangered parrot species is getting a new lease on life in its native Bolivian grassland habitat. The Bolivian bird conservation organization Asociacion Armonia, with the support of American Bird Conservancy and World Land Trust-US, has created the world’s first protected area for the large blue birds, prized in the pet trade. Asociacion Armonia has purchased an 8,785 acre ranch in the grasslands of eastern Bolivia, a site frequented by 20 blue-throated macaws during the breeding season. The ranch has been renamed the Barba Azul Nature Reserve and will be managed to promote breeding and recovery of the rare birds.
The kakapo has won the vote for New Zealand’s Bird of the Year, knocking the grey warbler off its perch. After month-long polling, the kakapo won Forest & Bird’s annual avian electoral race with 578 votes, well ahead of the takahe, which scored 322 votes. New Zealand’s Forest & Bird’s chief electoral officer Kevin Hackwell said it was huge victory for the flightless bird, which was on the brink of extinction and remains critically endangered.
Avian Zoonotics and Diseases News
Officials at Presque Isle State Park say dead gulls and loons are proof that avian botulism continues to be a problem for Great Lakes shore birds. The staff found nearly 60 dead birds at the park since Friday, including nine dead loons recently. Scientists say the problem begins with zebra mussels, which clear and warm the water and cause algae to form. When the algae dies, it releases the botulism into the water.
The flu shot may not just protect against influenza. A new study suggests it may also reduce the risk of developing a blood clot by as much as 26 per cent. Researchers from the University Paris Descartes found that the flu shot was equally effective against two types of blood clots: deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot in the leg, and pulmonary embolism, which is a clot in the lung. A blood clot can be fatal if it breaks loose, travels through the bloodstream and reaches the lungs.
H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in domestic poultry in Laos and immediately across the border in Thailand and possibly in humans in Indonesia.
Streaming Birds
On BirdNote, for the week of 9 November 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].
The vanishing Dawn Chorus is a very sobering example of what is often referred to as “shifting baselines.” Shifting baselines is a phrase used to describe the way significant changes to a system are measured against previous baselines, which themselves may represent significant changes from the original state of the system. This Dawn Chorus recording plays a recording of dawn chorus birdsong in an area, and then a second one recorded 10 years later in the same spot. Martyn Stewart then goes through a short process of removing bird songs in layers, and you can literally hear the progression of what the future holds [mp3].
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.
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.
Of the 770 bird species occurring in the Caribbean, 148 are endemic, with 105 confined to single islands. But only around 10% of the region’s original habitat remains, and 54 of the Caribbean’s bird species are globally threatened, of which 12 are Critically Endangered. BirdLife’s newly-published Important Bird Areas of the Caribbean: key sites for conservation is a milestone for the BirdLife Caribbean Program, which began in 2001. BirdLife International and its Partners, and a range of other organisations, have identified, documented and mapped 283 internationally significant Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the Caribbean. IBAs are key sites for the conservation of birds and biodiversity, and the building blocks for conservation planning. They are identified nationally, using data gathered locally and applying internationally agreed criteria.
Miscellaneous Bird News
Now that November has arrived, the Naturalists at Hilton Pond are pretty confident they won’t be seeing any more Ruby-throated Hummingbirds around, so it’s time for their annual summary of this year’s hummingbird field season. To learn how many hummers they banded (a lot) and how many returned from previous years (quite a few), please visit their 22-31 October 2008 installment of This Week at Hilton Pond. Along with the photo essay is their usual list of birds banded and recaptured during the period. Incidentally, there are a still few slots left for Week Two of their annual Costa Rica hummingbird expeditions. If you miss your hummers (as I do!) during the cold . . . dark . . . wet North American winter, they’ll let you gently hold and release some under a warm tropical sun in February! I know I’d go if I could afford it, and I’d post a bunch of photoessays on my blog, too! So one of my readers just has to go and send me lots of pictures and messages, so I can get my much-needed tropics and hummingbird fixes!
A Lanarkshire, Scotland, pet owner is selling what could be the world’s most expensive parrot. Chev, a multi-coloured Military Macaw, who lives with his owner Jim Gallagher, 54, in Airdrie, is for sale at offers over £179, 000. However, the lucky buyer will also get to keep Jim’s three-bedroom semi-detached home as part of the deal. He came up with the idea of selling his feathered friend along with his house in order to fund a move abroad. “I think I am offering a pretty good bargain,” said Jim Gallagher.
Birdorables are the kind of cute and colorful birds you might find in your backyard or when you go birding. They have all been “cutified” to closely match the natural shapes and colors of the actual bird. Just in time for holiday shopping, these cute birds are available on a range of different products, from bibs, children’s clothes and adult t-shirts to buttons, magnets, tiles, bags, mugs and much more! They are great gifts for birders or fans of birds.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Diane, Carol, Kathy, DeafScientist, Vicki, 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!


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 151

  1. Thats a young Blue tit in Dave’s picture.
    For most birders in Europe they are a common resident and one of the most usual species in gardens and at feeding stations. In much of Scandinavia these birds are regular irruptive migrants in the autumn.
    For more pictures of blue tits on such irruptive movements see here: