Friday, March 04, 2005

Birds in the News #1

Why should we care about birds? Birds are important for many reasons. First, birds have an innate value that we, as humans, should respect and celebrate. We owe it to them to increase our knowledge of their kind. Additionally, as companion travelers on this little blue planet, we certainly owe it to them to protect them from extinction, if this is at all possible. But why care? Because birds not only make our lives worth living but because they also have much to teach us, lessons that clarify our understanding of our biology as well as help us to understand what makes us human, for example. Below, I have collected some stories about birds that have featured prominently in the news this past week. I hope you enjoy reading them.

A new species of parrot has been formally described by Luís Fábio Silveira and his colleagues as they report in the latest issue of the Auk (122:292–305, 2005). This parrot, found in the Amazon River basin, is called the Sulfur-breasted Parakeet (or Conure; KON yur), Aratinga pintoi. A. pintoi is a close relative to the Sun Parakeet, A. solstitialis, and Jenday parakeet, A. jendaya, with which it had been previously confused. In fact, due to misunderstandings of A. pintoi’s natural history, this species had been living under a mistaken identity for more than 100 years.

Five captive-bred California condors were released in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Utah on 2 March. The condor recovery project removed the last remaining wild birds (22) to a captive breeding program that was administered by several zoos – a happy event where science, zoos and modern aviculture successfully collaborated to recover a species that was teetering on the brink of extinction. As a result of this work, there are currently 240 condors alive today – including 4 wild-born chicks. Having seen some of the original condors when I visited the LA Zoo several years ago, I can tell you that being in the presence of these intelligent and surprisingly beautiful birds (I’ve never seen a photograph that has done justice to a condor) was incredibly moving.

As a result of a collaboration between RARE and Conservation International, the Katala Foundation, to design and implement a local pride campaign, an endangered Philippine cockatoo finds its lowland forest home protected from destruction, at long last. By protecting this one bird species, many other rare and endangered animal species that share its home are also being protected. This is the first protected area on the island of Palawan.

Is personality genetic? Scientists have found evidence that a group of genes might influence basic personality in birds; shyness versus boldness. At least one of these genes, DRD4, is known to be shared with humans where it seems to influence similar personality features, too. This research showed that after several years, birds with intermediate personalities appear to be more successful at raising young, which might explain why neither avian (nor human) populations have evolved towards being completely extroverted nor introverted.

Last but not least, a research project that I donated feathers to from my own research birds, the lories, the fig parrots and hanging parrots, reports that parrots produce a unique set of five pigments, the psittacofulvins, that they use to color their feathers red. In this article, Parrot feather colors, Kevin McGraw notes that “The fact that there is a single set of molecules unique to and widespread among parrots, suggests that it is a pretty important evolutionary novelty, and one we should carefully consider when we think about why parrots are so strikingly colorful.”

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Birds in the News : : Next

Academic job interviews: 1 -- my first face-to-face interview for an academic position.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

9 Peer Reviews:

Anonymous hc said...

Yay for the interview!! (birds are cool too, but Yay for the interview!!)

5:53 PM  
Blogger Tabor said...

Ditto on the go girl! Sort of off subject, but did you know that there are parrots that winter over in the utility transformers in

8:53 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks for noticing about the interview, hc and tabor. I am not sure I will get the job .. the interview appeared to be a mere formality as far as I could tell .. but there's another interview or two that I have to go through after this one .. if I am one of the lucky "prechosen ones".

I did not know that there are parrots living in the utility transformers in Connecticut, tabor, but I'll bet you one hundred dollars that, based on that description, I can correctly guess their identity. They are .. monk/quaker parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus), right?

11:05 AM  
Blogger waxwing said...

Good news on the interview. What can one say ~ "break a wing"?
I share you joy in birds though I admit I know little compared to others. I should repeat "know thyself" over and over and over, I suppose. Meanwhile, thank you for the links in your post, especially the one about feather color. I find such info fascinating and fun. Also waiting to hear what sorts of birds are in the transformers ~ and where in Connecticut they can be found.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Miranda said...

Keeping my fingers crossed for you. You deserve to use your talents appropriately.

5:19 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks for your good wishes, waxwing and miranda! We shall see what happens next .. I have a two week wait to learn if I "made the cut" .. and I am not hopeful. They seemed to find my devotion to my research to be a problem even though I assured them that I can and will pursue it on my own time.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

Well, I'm joining the rest of the commenters in hoping you've made it... just one question: in what way is this position different from the one you're currently holding - is it tenure track, or what?

4:16 AM  
Blogger Tabor said...

Re the CT parrots. I saw them one winter when I drove through the area. Your comment motivated me to check this out. "Yes, There ARE parrot colonies all along the southwestern shore of CT. One of the newest colonies is in the big pine trees at the main entrance to Beardsley Park in Bridgeport. This species is called the Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus)and the Audubon Society Field Guide explains that they escaped from a dropped crate from South America at JFK Airport in the '60s. They've had no trouble adapting establishing colonies in NYC and all the way up the coast to Milford. They build huge stick nests and when a colony gets too big or something happens to a nested tree (lightning hit one in Fairfield in the '80s), they split up and start new ones. They are quite entertaining to watch. [Stein, 07/14/2001]" at this site here :

9:19 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hello Alon Levy! To answer your question, this position differs from the one I currently hold in several important ways. First, it is full-time so hopefully it will pay more than enough to cover my rent (I still have no idea what it pays and won't know until the next interview -- IF I am asked back for that interview, which I doubt will happen. Anyway, I'll bet it doesn't pay much, maybe 30K, if I am lucky). Second, because it is full-time, I will be given benefits, such as health insurance. Of course, this alone is HUGE because I have been without health insurance of any sort for the past 5 months now.

Unfortunately, the position is NOT tenure-track, so I get no "credit" in the tenure system for my time spent teaching. The position would require me to teach 25 (27?) "contact hours" per year of anatomy and physiology, basic biology, and possibly microbiology. That's a LOT of teaching! Unfortunately, I would not be teaching genetics or evolution courses (my favorites and -- along with ornithology, which they don't offer -- are the courses I am best suited to teach). Of these courses that I would teach, I most prefer to teach Microbiology, which is the least likely course offering to me.

Thanks for checking out the wild parrots, tabor. Did you see any nests on top of power transformers? Apparently, these birds love nest-building up there because it's warm and provides a nice nest platform. Well, until a fire starts! Needless to say, power companies are less than charmed by these raucous little birds.

11:52 AM  

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