Birds in the News #7
This issue of Birds in the News starts off with a link to the newest dinosaur discovery, an individual that was carrying developing eggs when she died. My bird pals and I also found lots of new nesting bird cams, many of them international, so you can see bird species that may be new to you. I also included a link to Mike Yip's webpage in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, that is full of breathtaking bird photographs that will knock your socks off. Other topics in this issue include a story about a duck that has charmed this nation's capital, a singing parrot, and other treats that you will enjoy. This week's featured reader photoblog essay is about the trials of a great horned owl family.
Birds in Science:
If you are like me, you were excited yesterday to learn that a Dinosaur Fossil Carries Bird-Like Eggs Inside was reported in this week's issue of the top journal, Science. The dinosaur, a theropod, lived during the Upper Cretaceous Period, which was between 98 to 65 million years ago.
This very interesting story describes recent research, also published in Science, showing that introduced species can have major and permanent impacts on habitats. Donald Croll, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and first author of this paper, summarizes these findings this way; "Introduced species are a global phenomenon, and we tend to focus on the direct effects, such as the reduction or extinction of species that are consumed by an introduced predator. This study shows how the effects of introduced species can spread throughout an ecosystem in unpredictable ways."
Is Baer's pochard, Aythya baeri, slipping ever closer to extinction? That is what ornithologists think because this migratory duck has been mysteriously absent from almost all of its traditional flyways and wintering areas in Asia in the past several years.
Did you know that the average birdcam costs approximately $5000 per year to operate? This is according to one of my reader photoblog contributors whom I was trying to convince to install a streaming bird cam link into her wood duck nestbox. Needless to say, she will not be streaming live pictures of nesting wood ducks this year. Despite the cost of birdcams, they are growing ever more popular. My birdy pals and I have located yet more webbed indices of nesting bird cams from around the world, including a penguin cam in Antarctica, a large number of stork cams in Germany, an Egyptian goose in Netherlands, a rare white-tailed Eagle cam in Scotland, and a large number of peregrine falcons from all around the world. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has a nice nesting birdcam index that displays several nest videos on the same page. Another interesting bird cam is this solar-powered bird cam that refreshes twice per second (or once every 5 or 20 seconds, your choice, if that works better for your connection) so it is almost as good as streaming video! This cam is unique because it focuses on a trio of bald eagles (two females and one male) tending a nest. If you are really interested in bird cams, there are more listed in previous issues of Birds in the News.
I also linked to the Vancouver Island Birds webpage, which is filled with some of the most astonishing photographs of west coast birds that I have ever seen. You simply must see it to believe it.
People Helping Birds:
Who is more popular that all of our government officials combined? A DUCK! It's a female mallard, nesting on the lawn in front of the Treasury Department, just off Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. She is being guarded from hundreds of her eager admirers by the Secret Service, who have given her several names, including my personal favorite, T-Bill.
"Hacking" young raptors is an ancient practice that has been adopted widely throughout the conservation community as a "soft release" method for introducing domestically raised birds into the wild. This story describes the practice and includes pictures of peregrine falcons, who were teetering on the brink of extinction in several countries before this technique was successfully used to increase their populations.
People Watching Birds:
Learning how to identify wild birds as they flit through the trees is not easy, but more people are learning how to do this every year. This raises the issue of how should as aspiring birder learn how to identify birds without becoming discouraged. One ornithologist and expert birder, Kamal Islam, claims that the brightly colored warblers, the 'jewels of the bird world', are a good target for beginners because of their beauty.
Birding hotspots around the world is an exhaustive collection of places to see particular species of birds in the wild, and includes a tremendous index of photographs provided by the website's readers.
Birds Entertaining People:
There is at least one baseball fan out there who wears feathers while singing Take me out to the ballgame. This story has both a slideshow and a video link.
After breaking into a house where a woman was in distress, police were startled to discover a very talented parrot, instead. And where do you suppose this parrot learned to say such things? My guess; television.
Surfbirds.com conducted a very interesting interview with the director of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. It also includes updates and delightful pictures of several feathered stars of the film.
This webpage indexes photographs of extinct birds and other animals. They have photographs of famous extinct species such as the Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon (including a close-up of this species' iridescent plumage), a variety of Hawai'ian akialoas that compare beak shapes, and the great auk. This site also has a faded painting of one of my research bird species, the severely endangered ultramarine lory. This site also includes photographs of extinct mammals.
These resized photographs show a great horned owl hen and one of her two chicks (click on each picture to see the larger original in its own window). The owls live in the chaparral of San Diego County where photographer and fellow blogger at JamulBlog, Tom, lives with his wife. Tom and his wife discovered the owl nest in an oak tree in their neighbor's front yard several days ago when they found one of the chicks on the ground. The chick is apparently unhurt and is recovering nicely by eating dozens of mice every day at a wildlife rehab facility located several hundred miles away.
Why was one chick on the ground? Tom writes; Nancy [the rehabber] tells us that two scenarios are common: accidentally falling out, and being kicked out by the sibling. The accidents happen, she says, because the owls frequently occupy another (smaller) bird's (smaller) nest. And in fact, we believe the nest our owl is in was a crow's nest. The sibling kicking out the other happens, she says, especially when food is short and there's intense competition -- and this could be either because of a real shortage or an inattentive parent. There's certainly not a real shortage where we are; we're having a rodent explosion this year because of heavy rainfalls and the resulting vegetation. So I'm thinking the accident theory is the most likely... The kicked out chicklet was very hungry, but it had food available (a dead rat alongside it, apparently left by the parents). Nancy tells us that the defining characteristic of an owl chicklet is insatiable hunger; that they'll eat as long as you put something in front of them. I'm not sure how serious she was about that, exactly, but clearly she didn't think the fact that it was hungry was any sort of indicator [of hunger] at all.
We learned from our books that the Great Horned Owls tend to use the same nests year-after-year, so we got to wondering why this owl showed up. Of course it could simply be this parent owl's first brood, or just some accident of fate. But here's another theory (mine): we had very large fires in San Diego County in October 2003. These fires burned tens of thousands of acres, including a large percentage of all the riparian live oak habitat in the county. Where we live is some of the best such habitat remaining, and we're just outside the burned area (whew!). So I'm thinking that maybe this was a displaced owl.
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Academic Job Applications: 9 (the "shotgun method" of applying for summer adjunct positions that may or may not exist at local universities and colleges: This is my patented "toilet paper campaign" where I send applications to the chair of all college and university science departments within subway range while simultaneously crossing all my fingers and toes. Fortunately, two positions were advertized, and one seems like "it was made for me". We shall see if they agree).
Professional Job Rejections: 4 (Assistant Professor of Biology, Assistant Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Adjunct Professor of Biology, also a Postdoctoral Fellowship -- 1 position with 200 applicants).
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