Birds in the News #2
This week, my bird loving pals and I have found some interesting stories about birds and people that you will enjoy. These stories range from Asian vultures who all are teetering on the brink of extinction, to "webbed" 3-D scanned images of avian study skins and a story about how birds have helped disabled women find meaning in their lives again. Some stories linked here are old but are well worth reading (again). If you have found a story about birds in the news, please send it to me so I can include it in my weekly "Birds in the News" round-up.
Birds and the Environment:
After the unexpected environmental disaster triggered by the widespread veterinary use of the anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac, a second breeding centre for Asia's vanishing vultures is being established to recover three species of Gyps vultures from the brink of extinction. Unfortunately, groups of only two species, G. indicus and G. bengalensis, have been captured for this proposed 15-year captive breeding effort which leaves the future of G. tenuirostris in doubt.
Speaking of environmental damage, another cause of environmental damage is the release of animals in locations where they are not native. These "invading species" often cause tremendous damage to native species through competition for limited resources, predation, and by transmitting alien diseases to native species. The Institute for Biological Invasions' "Invader of the Month" is the Monk Parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus. This long and informative article, originally published in December 2000, details the natural history of this little parrot. It comes to the surprising conclusion that "the monk parakeet is a clear example of an exotic species with a positive impact, at least in human sociological or psychological terms." This report goes on to say that "monk parakeets are agricultural pests in Argentina [their native home] and [in] at least one other location, and their nests damage transmission lines by causing them to short circuit (Bucher 1992). At issue is the amount of damage they inflict."
Call for Comments on proposed revisions to the threat status of parrots:
As part of their annual cycle of reviewing the threat status of the world's birds, BirdLife International is currently seeking comment and information on ten parrot species whose categorization on the IUCN Red List is currently under review. Each topic describes the current status of these species, reasons for the suggested revision, and a request for information. The final deadline for comments is 21 March.
For the birders and ornithologists out there, here are a few links that you might enjoy;
The sound that accompanies this blog entry is produced by a pair of duetting eastern whipbirds, Psophodes olivaceus, from Australia (reload this page to hear it again. The male sings the slowly ascending opening note, and the female finishes the song with the whip "crack"). This song was linked from Sound Gallery-Soundbytes of Birds of New Zealand, where many more bird song recordings are available. The name of this website is deceptive because there are many species recordings from other places than New Zealand that can be found there.
Index of bird type specimens are scanned 3 dimensional images of avian study skins at the Zoological Museum Amsterdam that are freely accessible by the public. Each specimen has a complete history as well. This link also shows some examples of the birds that I research (Old World Parrots).
Behavior (of Birds and People):
Following is a touching story makes me proud to know that others find birds to be as life-affirming as I do (while simultaneously making me homesick for my other home, Seattle); Birding Gives Disabled Women Their Active Lives Back. I was a volunteer for the Seattle Audubon for two years (The Audubon is part of this story, which is why I mention this), so I know all the places and the birds they speak of in this story like the back of my hand. Ah, the memories, such sweet memories!
A report about a misbehaving Mallard drake, Anas platyrhynchos won the coveted Ig Nobel Prize for Improbable Research. This story has all the essential elements of a good thriller but I refuse to spoil it by telling you any more. Really, you have to read it to believe it.
This story about the feeding innovations of birds was widely reported several weeks ago, but I thought it was worth including here anyway. This story is interesting because it discusses some rather odd and creative methods that birds use to obtain food and uses those anecdotal stories as a way to speculate about avian intelligence. Even though I don't think this is a good way to measure "intelligence" of birds (we still can't figure out how to measure "intelligence" in humans!), I do think these stories about avian innovation are fascinating.
For those of you who are closely following the avian influenza story, you might be cheered to know that tests of a new vaccine using an attenuated (weakened) H5N1 virus have apparently been successful in monkeys, according to officials in Hanoi. This is an important development because, despite having no hard evidence of human-to-human transmission, many officials claim that avian influenza has already jumped the species barrier into humans and appears to be showing limited transmissability between humans.
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