Friday, March 11, 2005

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.

Avian Influenza:

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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Academic job applications: 1 (in London)

Academic job rejections: 1 -- I wanted this job so badly that I simply lack the words to express how terrible this particular rejection feels.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

5 Peer Reviews:

Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

Lots of good reading here. Love those sites with the bird sounds and detailed histories.
So sorry to hear about the London job.
Rexroth's Daughter

11:54 PM  
Blogger Dr. Charles said...

i agree - cool links - and i always like the sound effects! the avian bird flu gives me particular anxiety, as i may find myself on the front lines someday. good to hear of the success in monkeys. the UK is stocking up on tamiflu, which may attenuate a potential future pandemic strain.

1:59 AM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

Sorry to hear you got rejected. That's that academic application you talked about a while ago that you explained to me required you to teach 25-27 contact hours, right?

9:36 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hello everyone! It's good to see that you are enjoying the bird stories! My not-so-secret agenda (the result of much thought about the Pale Male/Lola Protests that I played a fairly big role in) is to help develop a conservation ethic in people by showing them the value of birds to their everyday lives, to science and to medicine. If people can learn more about why birds are wonderful and necessary, then they can begin to appreciate why we need to protect them from extinction.

dharma bums: many thanks for your empathy, but the job rejection came not from the London job (that is an application and probable future rejection) but from an academic job that I interviewed for at a local 4-year college. This job was perfect for so many reasons that I would happily enumerate to you over a beer, so I keenly feel the loss of that bright possibility.

Dr. Charles: I have another article I am working on about avian influenza that discusses its development into a pandemic .. it always starts out as an innocuous infection a year or two prior to the big pandemic, when all hell breaks loose. But I am also thinking that there were several solvable problems that accentuated the infectivity of previous flu pandemics -- problems that we must learn how to solve so we can deal with and hopefully contain this virus before it is too late.

Alon Levy: this rejection came from my first choice, a job where I would have 7 "contact hours" per year, where I would run my own lab and do research (and would be encouraged to keep my current research affiliations) and it was tenure track.

The other job that I described to you, with the 25-27 "contact hours" per year, is the full-time position that I just interviewed for face-to-face (my first real life interview). That job not only has a crushing teaching load, but they want to discourage me from pursuing my research -- in my own time (yet they demand a PhD!! Go figure). That job has a one-year contract, and is not tenure-tack. I do not believe I will get that job for several reasons, but I would be unhappy with the job if I did get it (except for the obvious benefits; health insurance in addition to being able to pay my rent, food and cell phone bills without experiencing several nearly sleepless nights while my brain-calculator reworks my budget). But the obvious concern by them regarding my determination to pursue my research really upset and offended me!

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Communication Resources Nice article about the Motorola V360 camera phone, as well as other good resources.

3:19 PM  

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