Friday, April 08, 2005

Birds in the News, #6

As usual, my “peeps” and I found a variety of stories about birds and people that you will enjoy. Included in this week’s index of links is a photoblog of a nesting hummingbird, a birdcam that puts images of migrating cranes along the Platte River onto the internet, information about rare bird species, and plenty of stories about “citizen scientists” who are making some surprising and illuminating discoveries about bird movements and populations. I also have a special feature from Joy, the “sapsucker lady” and reader who has returned to tell us more about “her” sapsucker family.

As always, if you have an interesting bird story link or if you have photographs and/or a bird story that you'd like to share with others, feel free to email them to me.

Bird Life

This webpage is almost two years old, but I thought it deserved to be seen again (by some of you) or for the first time (by most of you). This is a delightful photoblog of the life of a hummingbird, from the end of nest building and egg-laying to fledging. There are five pages total, linked in sequence. As an added bonus that few of you have seen, this photoblog added a new photoblog to a 2005 hummingbird nest, linked from the last page in the sequence.

The National Geographic Society has a Crane Cam that will be broadcasting pictures of spring migration during the mornings and evenings for a couple more weeks. This camera is mounted on a site along the Platte River in Nebraska, where approximately 50,000-400,000 migrating sandhill and endangered whooping cranes are expected to rest and “refuel” briefly during their northward migration.

People Helping Birds

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ “Big Garden BirdWatch” survey raised concerns about the decline of formerly common songbird species. These data were compiled and analyzed in conjunction with data collected by another project, the “Winter Farmland Bird Survey”, by the British Trust for Ornithology. The goal was to monitor modern trends of avian populations and movements. Some of the findings of these surveys are discussed in this article, “on a wing and a prayer” that attributes the decline of birds to modern intensive farming practices. But, according to this story, which also relies on data from these projects, farmers can reverse further declines of certain native bird populations by simply delaying ploughing their fields until spring (intensive farming practices require autumnal ploughing).

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has developed the Birdhouse Network Project to provide nest boxes for dwindling populations of bird species. Private citizens monitor these bird houses and collect vital information about the birds for Cornell ornithologists. Similar to research projects sponsored by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology in the United Kingdom, this also is a “citizen scientist” program where volunteers collect data annually from around the country.

As you probably already know, islands experience many problems preserving their native wildlife, especially since sailors introduced rats to most oceanic islands in the 1800s. Rats are voracious predators that went on to destroy native wildlife, especially birds, driving many species to extinction. However, on Campbell island, two incredibly rare and endangered Campbell Island snipe were recently spotted after rats had been exterminated from that island in 2001. This avian species is so rare that it was only first discovered in 1997 and is currently thought to be a subspecies of the New Zealand snipe, Coenocorypha aucklandica.

Hunters and environmentalists are on the same side? Is someone hallucinating here? Well, sometimes they are allies, as happened recently in the state of Minnesota. Even though environmentalists do not generally support “sport” hunting, they have allied themselves with duck hunters, who also love these birds, in their mutual quest to restore damaged habitat for migratory ducks. In this case, the loss of migratory waterfowl results from wanton destruction of wetlands, which incidentally, is the most endangered habitat type in the world.

Birds Helping People

Who would have suspected that putting a bird feeder in your backyard would change your perspective of yourself and your role in society? This story reveals how a simple bird feeder has transformed thousands of people throughout the United States into “citizen scientists”. This story discusses how they and their sponsor, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, are gathering and providing interesting information about wild birds to the public and to scientists. And the beauty of this? According to one participant, “Anybody can do this, even children. The more watchers we have, the more information we can get about specific [bird] populations.”

People Hurting Birds:

Despite the fact that Charles Darwin made the Galapagos Islands famous with his observations of evolution in those islands, all is not well there. Currently, the rare and endangered waved albatross, Phoebastria irrorata, which breeds on the Galapagos, is threatened by longline fishing practices. Long line fishing specifically targets pelagic midwater fishes, particularly tuna and swordfish for sale to restaurants throughout Japan, America and Europe. Unfortunately, long line fishing also kills many sea turtles, sharks, albatross and petrels (all endangered species), which are euphemistically referred to in the industry as “by catch”.

So you thought that the war in Iraq only hurt, maimed and killed people? The evidence plainly shows that war has many casualties, most of which are invisible. Several of these invisible casualties include extensive habitat destruction and loss or extinction of endemic wildlife, as detailed in this story. Unfortunately, these damages negatively impact the lives of the residents for decades or longer, long after the conflict has ended. If we, as a nation, truly want to help the Iraqis, we should also be helping to restore damaged habitats and wildlife, otherwise, our legacy among Iraqis might only extend to the flattened and polluted wreckage of a once glorious land.

Do you believe that climate change is a myth foisted on innocent Americans by liberal “eggheads” insulated from the real world in their ivory towers? Regardless of what certain people in power believe, birds are telling, no .. shouting out .. a different story. This is a tragic warning that we all must heed before it is too late.

Reader PhotoBlog:

As a special treat for my readers, I have more news from Joy, the artist and photographer who so kindly shared some of her photographs and words about “her” sapsuckers. There are four photographs linked from this story, and each is linked to a larger version of the photograph that will appear in its own window when you click on the picture or highlighted phrase linked here. (All photos and quotes appear here with specific permission from Joy. Please respect her copyrights to her photographs and words by asking her for permission before using them.)

Hello - I am the sapsucker lady - I am glad you enjoyed my photos and would like to share with you my relationship with [this] sapsucker family that lives in my yard. Over the years I transformed my yard into a special place for birds; planting their favorite plants, developing a pond, providing housing. A family of sapsuckers came (from the surrounding woods) and took up residence. They especially loved the birch tree and native plum trees I planted near the pond. In fact they made so many sap wells in the middle of the birch tree trunk that I thought the tree was going to die [see hummingbird photograph]. The sap literally poured out of the holes - so much so that not only a growing sapsucker baby came with its parents but hummingbirds and butterflies as well. Ants were also attracted to the sweet sap and the sapsuckers took great excitement in finding and eating them! It was such a joy to watch them from my kitchen window.

Dead SapsuckerThe sapsucker baby grew rapidly during the summer and in the fall when most of the sapsuckers migrated elsewhere he stayed here. He kept busy drilling sap wells and eating apples for nourishment. It was delightful to watch this bright colored beauty among winter’s subdued color. Then one day a Sharp-shinned hawk attacked it and when he darted away,
[he] flew into our large window. I heard the bang and rushed out to look. On the ground was his limp body. I wrapped him in a cloth to preserve his body heat while he recovered but he never came back. I was heart-broken like it was my only child.

So you can imagine my happiness recently when the lovely returning sapsucker in the photo shared these sweet gestures with me.
[playing “Peek a Boo”; see “Birds in the News #5”]


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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

6 Peer Reviews:

Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

You have provided such a wealth of information here. Joy's pictures are amazing. The hummingbird site from egg to fledgling is spectacular.
Quite disappointing information about climate change and the affect on the birds that need the flow of cold waters.
Good luck on the jobs. Let us know how it goes.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

It's important to point out the incredible negative ecological consequences of war, as you do above. However, I think it's worth pointing out that the destruction of the Iraqi marshlands was primarily carried out by Saddam Hussein, as part of his internal war against dissenting tribes.

Very quickly after the invasion, the original inhabitants of those drained marshes began attacking the dikes and dams with hand tools to try to revive them. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers actually sent in personnel and equipment to try to make the process more systematic and safe.

There's a March 8th, 2005 article in the New York Times which addresses this. (I also remember reading one in the Washington Post from 2003.) It's anything from a simple or clear situation, and the rejuvenation of the marshes doesn't address my many criticisms of the war, but in fairness, this is an area where it appears an ecological good is coming out of the regime change.

2:09 PM  
Blogger jojo said...

As usual, you've made a great and robust post!
Birds are most definitely environmental indicators, being so susceptible to the slightest of changes and sadly, sometimes seeming the least ablest to adapt.

10:23 PM  
Blogger Sunidesus said...

Those hummer photos are incredible. Thanks for pointing them out!

12:14 AM  
Blogger Phila said...

Great stuff...thanks! I love the crane cam. Nebraska's cranes are a subject I always bring up to free-market types. They'd planned to put a mall in their habitat, or maybe an office block...some kind of huge, dumb development, anyway. But they didn't, and the money from birdwatchers - who come to Nebraska every year from all over the world - has rejuvenated the economy far beyond anything development would've done...

12:34 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks everyone for reading and appreciating birds!

Joe: I should have pointed this out because I am well aware that Saddam Hussein (is that why "they" call him "So Damned Insane"?) launched a genocide against the marsh Iraqi people that resulted in terrible damage to that habitat as well as to the people there. Unfortunately, the USA hasn't done anything to improve the situation, and in fact has worsened it. Even though our contribution to the damage is minimal when compared to Saddam's efforts, we will be stuck "holding the bag" in the minds of many Iraqis, unless we fix the situation.

JoJo: Birds are no worse at adapting to habitat damage than most other creatures, but they are often more noticeable to many people than, say, caddisfly larvae or marine plankton, and so environmentally-caused disruptions in avian populations are often the first real warning that people notice and (maaaaybe) heed. It's too bad that birds are truly the "canary in the coal mine" for the clueless among us.

Phila: I am so glad to know that the development was blocked and that birders worldwide are using their pocketbook to help preserve these amazing and elegant birds .. we almost lost one species of crane, let's hope that they will recover and fill our skies with their wings and cries alongside their other feathery brethren.

1:21 PM  

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