Birds in the News 152

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Sanderlings, Calidris alba, at Bolivar Flats, Texas.
Image: Joseph Kennedy, 24 June 2008 [larger view].
Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/1500s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400 .

Birds in Science
Birdsong is the primary model system that helps scientists understand how the brain produces complex sequences of learned behavior, such as playing the piano. In songbirds, there are many interconnected brain regions that play specific and important role in the production of song. It was hypothesized that one of several regions in a bird’s brain could orchestrate the rhythm of the bird’s song, acting like a sort of biological metronome, but the technology did not exist to identify which song control nucleus might play this role — until now. In an elegant combination of physics and biology, two researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge invented a tiny new device that allowed them to identify the precise brain region regulating the rhythm of birdsong.
Invasive species are everywhere: from plants such as Scotch (English) broom, Cytisus scoparius, whose yellow flowers bloom prolifically along roadways of North America, Australia and New Zealand to mammals such as human beings, Homo sapiens, which are the ultimate invasive species because we have invaded nearly every habitat on the planet. This is the story of a team of researchers who used genetics to identify the sources for a number of populations of monk parakeets, Myiopsitta monachus, in the United States and discovered that these birds constitute two species instead of just one, as originally thought.
Canadian researchers say they’ve narrowed down the likely owner of a dinosaur nest, abandoned on a river’s edge 77 million years ago, adding the discovery offers a unique look at dinosaur reproduction and the evolution of birds. Scientists from the University of Calgary and Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum say the nest unearthed in northern Montana in the 1990s likely belonged to one of two types of small, carnivorous dinosaurs. The two suspects are a ceanagnathid, which looks somewhat like an ostrich, or a small raptor called a dromaeosaurid. Both are small by dinosaur standards and related to modern birds. GrrlScientist comment: translated form scientist-talk, this means that the answer to the age old question, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” is that the egg came first. I’ll bet the creationists are crying over their omletes!
Mockingbirds collected by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands may not be the most visually exciting part of an exhibition that opened Friday at the Natural History Museum in London, but they stimulated the thinking that led to the theory of evolution. The specimens have never before been on public display. Darwin found that the mockingbirds he saw in the Galapagos Islands in September and October of 1835 were different from the ones he had seen all over South America. “It struck him immediately that is was a very different bird: it’s bigger, it has this dark chest, the bill is quite long,” said Jo Cooper, the museum’s curator of birds.
People Hurting Birds
A Walnut Creek, Calif., retirement community where deer nibble on lawns and wild turkeys strut across the golf course is calling in a hit man to shoot woodpeckers that drill into homes to stash acorns. Two Rossmoor homeowner associations are bringing in a federal hunter soon after receiving U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permits to kill up to 50 acorn woodpeckers, on condition that nonlethal methods are tried first. Some residents are upset, but the homeowner groups contend they have installed nets, hawk-squawk boxes, owl decoys and battery-operated spiders, and yet homes are getting drilled by the birds. “People here don’t want to shoot them, but after spending eight years and $170,000 without success, the homeowner groups don’t know what else to do,” said Maureen O’Rourke, a Rossmoor spokeswoman. “The birds can do a lot of damage.”
A key weapon in the fight against wildlife crime could be lost because of changes to European agricultural policy, the RSPB has warned. Landowners and farmers currently lose EU cash if they use “non-selective” methods of bird population control, such as poisoning. However, the EU wants to break the link between Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments and wildlife laws. The RSPB said a change in the rules would be a blow to Scottish wildlife.
A British company wants to mine coal in the heart of one of South Africa’ most ecologically sensitive natural environments. Conservationists believe the prospecting rights obtained by Delta Mining, which is now majority owned by London Mining plc, is illegal and poses one of the most serious threats to the country’s natural heritage. The extraction of coal from almost 200 km2 of the Wakkerstroom/Luneburg region, a vast area of wetlands and grassland east of Pretoria, would destroy habitats used by over 300 bird species including South Africa’s national bird, Blue Crane Grus paradisea (Vulnerable). More than 85% of the world’s Rudd’s Lark, Heteromirafra ruddi, (Vulnerable) live on the Wakkerstroom where Bush Blackcap, Lioptilus nigricapillus, and Yellow-breasted Pipit, Anthus chloris (Vulnerable) also thrive. Thousands of jobs could be lost if the development went ahead. The sources of four major rivers are found in the region and all could be heavily polluted by mining operations.
Birds Hurting People
A 10-acre brush fire broke out near the Rancho Palos Verdes City Hall in California on Saturday morning, but was extinguished by firefighters before it could cause any damage. Unlike fires raging elsewhere in Southern California, the one on the Palos Verdes Peninsula was put out quickly. Reported at 11:02 a.m., the blaze burned in a canyon near Hawthorne Boulevard and Palos Verdes Drive South. Southern California Edison officials determined the fire was caused by a bird that landed on power lines. “We heard a large boom, almost like an explosion,” he said. “The power went out and we ran outside. We saw a a fire shoot up from a transformer.” Hansalik said the flames shot 50 feet in the air. “It jumped the fence of the court,” he said. “The windscreens on the courts were on fire. We called the Fire Department instantly.” The bird did not survive.
People Helping Birds
Asociación Armonía (BirdLife in Bolivia), with the support of American Bird Conservancy and World Land Trust-US, has created the world’s first protected area for the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw, Ara glaucogularis, a species with an estimated global population of 300 individuals. The group purchased a 3,555 hectare ranch in the grasslands of eastern Bolivia, a site with 20 Blue-throated Macaws during the breeding season. The Blue-throated Macaw is endemic to savannas in the Beni province of Bolivia, and depends on motucu palms for nesting. These palms occur in palm “islands” embedded in the extensive seasonally-flooded grasslands. The entire known population of the species exists on private ranches which undergo yearly burning and heavy grazing by cattle.
A new plan will help stimulate international conservation to save the fastest declining species covered by the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA). The ‘International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the Lesser White-fronted Goose, Anser erythropus [Vulnerable]’ provides a framework for coordinated international action across its extraordinary migratory route which spans Europe and parts of Asia. Adopted at the Fourth Meeting of the Parties to AEWA in Antananarivo, Madagascar, the plan sets the stage for strengthened cooperative conservation action between Eurasian countries in which this species regularly occurs. “We now have a solid basis of consolidated information and a practical roadmap which will help countries to work together for the protection of this threatened species”, said Bert Lenten, the Executive Secretary of AEWA.
Birds Helping People
Willie the parrot is being credited with helping save the life of a 2-year-old girl who was choking Friday at her Denver-area home while her babysitter was in the bathroom. “While I was in the bathroom, Willie (the parrot) started screaming like I’d never heard him scream before and he started flapping his wings,” said Meagan, the sitter who owns the bird. “Then he started saying ‘mama baby’ over and over and over again until I came out and looked at Hannah and Hannah’s face was turning blue because she was choking on her pop tart.”
Avian Influenza and other Zoonotics and Bird Disease News
Migratory birds cannot be declared responsible for the outbreak of bird flu in any part of the world, including Pakistan, as recent foreign scientific studies revealed that there is no solid evidence which show correlation between migratory birds and bird flue in any part of the world. The FAO collected samples from 300,000 to 350,000 wild birds across the world. None of these were found H5N1 positive. After a comprehensive critical review of recent scientific literature it has been concluded that poultry trade, rather bird migration, is the main mechanism of global dispersal of the virus.
Google is putting the power of the Internet to work in tracking the onset of influenza in the United States, tracking patterns in search queries to determine the spread of the disease. Google Flu Trends, a new tool recently unveiled by the Internet giant, counts the number of flu-related queries on the Google search engine and provides estimates on influenza outbreaks in the 50 US states. “We found that there’s a very close relationship between the frequency of these search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week,” Google said in a posting on its official blog.
A new study has revealed that influenza vaccination can help reduce the risk of blood clots forming in veins by 26 percent. “Our study suggests for the first time that vaccination against influenza may reduce the risk of venous thrombotic embolism (VTE),” said Dr. Joseph Emmerich, lead author of the study and professor of vascular medicine at the University Paris Descartes and head of the INSERM Lab 765, which investigates thrombosis.
H5N1 avian influenza has been detected in domestic poultry in Thailand and in humans in Indonesia.
Streaming Birds
On BirdNote, for the week of 16 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].
California condors and their sanctuary that burned down during the recent Big Sur fires are getting a helping hand from volunteers who are pouring in their money and time. Eight birds that were rescued by helicopter from the sanctuary before it burned are about to be released. [National Public Radio: mp3 3:59]
Although his brain was no bigger than a walnut, Alex the African gray parrot could do more than speak and understand — he could also count, identify colors and, according to his owner Irene Pepperberg, develop an emotional relationship. When Alex died in September 2007, his last words to Pepperberg were “You be good. I love you.” In her new book, Alex & Me, Pepperberg explores the world of animal cognition and describes her unique relationship with Alex. [National Public Radio: Fresh Air: 19:54]. GrrlScientist comment: my own review of this book is in progress and will be posted as soon as I can find stable wifi.
This is a fascinating podcast about a pair of Osprey, nesting in the British Isles — this was the original, and only, pair of this species to nest in the British Isles. The podcast includes an extensive history of this species in the British Isles and Scandinavia.
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
The current issue of the Birding Community E-bulletin is distributed through the generous support of Steiner Binoculars as a service to active and concerned birders, those dedicated to the joys of birding and the protection of birds and their habitats. This issue marks the 48th E-bulletin produced, four years of sharing bird, birding, and bird conservation information. You can access an archive of past E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA).
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. Ian also recently published an article in the magazine, Winging It, about the 100 bird books that every birder should own in their library [free PDF]. Keep an eye on the comments for this blog entry to find more URLs where this PDF is being hosted.
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.
Bird Identification Quizzes
If you are interested to participate in a daily online discossion of bird identification, please go to the Mystery Birds archive. This is a collaborative project featuring with a number of talented bird photographers and written analyses by Rick Wright and it is updated daily, and you are given 48 hours to identify each bird before its identification and an analysis is published. You are alos invited to check out the previous Mystery Birds to improve your birding skills.
The current issue of Birding (November/December 2008) has a downloadable photo challenge. In this free PDF, you will find ten photos of Old World warblers (in the old, broad, polyphyletic sense) from spring 2008. Please let them know what you think they are! Some of them are hard, some of them are (relatively) easy. It’s okay to send Ted Floyd your analyses via email.
Christmas Bird Count News
The Anuual Christmas Bird Counts are rapidly approaching, so I am publishing links to all of the counts here; who to contact, and where and when they are being held, so if you have a link to a Christmas Bird Count for your state, please let me know so I can include it in the list:
Kansas State Christmas Bird Counts (Thanks, Chuck Otte.)
Miscellaneous Bird News
To investigate global warming’s effects upon Greenland’s polar ice cap, researchers at the University of Colorado this past August released 90 yellow rubber ducks into the melt water flowing down a chasm in the largest of Greenland’s 200 glaciers — the Jakobshavn Isbrae — which has been thinning rapidly since 1997. Each duck was imprinted with an email address and, in three languages, the offer of a reward. If all goes well, Dr. Behar hopes that one day they will emerge 30 miles or so away at the glacier’s edge in the open water of Disko Bay near Ilulissat, bobbing brightly amid the icebergs north of the Arctic Circle, each one a significant clue to just how warming temperatures may speed the glacier’s slide to the sea.

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The Fine Print: Thanks to Rick, Scott, Ian, Barbara, Diane, 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!


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 152

  1. Bob O'H says:

    re the photo: Reservoir Sanderlings?

  2. Ian "Birdbooker" Paulsen says:

    HI ALL:
    Here’s a link to my Bird Book article PDF:
    It lists 50 books, NOT 100 as Grrlscientist said!