Friday, May 13, 2005

Birds in the News #11

Welcome to the 11th issue of Birds in the News! This week, my peeps and I found a variety of fun and interesting stories that you will enjoy, including a press release describing the mechanistic similarities in memory storage between human and avian brains, how a new dinosaur discovery sheds light on the transition from meat eating to vegetarianism, online digital scans of an ivory-billed woodpecker skeleton, and information (and a blog, for an insider's point of view) about the greatest birding event in the world, the upcoming World Series of Birding! Also featured this week are two photographs of the hyacinth macaw, kindly provided by a fellow blogger.

As always, if you have a fun or interesting link about birds in the news or a photograph to share, feel free to send them to me for inclusion in the next issue of Birds in the News. Enjoy!

Birds in Science and Technology:

Is selective memory unique to (adolescent) humans? Apparently not, according to a recent press release; deep thoughts of a birdbrain reveals how the nidopallium caudolaterale (NCL) of the avian brain is functionally similar to a region of the human brain that is associated with higher-order cognitive properties that many people claim are exclusively human traits, such as making plans, reasoning, creativity, and abstract thought. Researchers Jonas Rose and Michael Colombo found that neurons in the NCL selectively fire when birds are told to remember something and stop firing when they are told to forget, thus revealing the molecular mechanism that birds (and humans) use to make choices about which information they store in the form of memories. These similarities between the avian and human brain suggest that we should reexamine not only our notions of how these structures operate but also our arrogance by thinking that human biology and nature are unique.

According to this Scientific American article, New Dinosaur Documents Shift from Meat to Veggie Diet, these findings come from an unlikely candidate; therizinosaurs, plant-eating cousins of Jurassic Park’s velociraptor. The study co-author, Scott Sampson, from the University of Utah says that the rise of plant-munching therizinosaurs in Utah “may have been directly linked to the spread of flowering plants about 125 million years ago.”

One of my flock of web peeps discovered this amazing on-line collection of avian videos, the Internet Bird Collection (IBC). Searchable by genus and species, the goal of this library is to share knowledge about all species of the world’s avifauna. Each video includes the photographer’s name, the recording date and length. Additionally, viewers can rate each video clip for its videographic quality and ornithological interest. Co-sponsored by the Handbook of the Birds of the World and IBC.

The ecology of the ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, has been well documented; yet, little is known about the osteology (skeletal structure) of this incredibly rare bird. The lack of skeletal specimens in museum collections makes this aspect of its biology even more difficult to study. However, new technology is changing that. DigiMorph obtained and scanned a mounted specimen of an ivory-billed woodpecker to produce 2- and 3-dimensional imagery of the internal and external morphology of the bird. Although the particular specimen used is in poor condition, this methodology shows how new technologies can be used in nondestructive ways to view the internal morphology of one of the rarest birds in North America. DigiMorph is a collaborative effort between more than 80 scientists around the world and is supported by a large number of academic, government and business sponsors.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News:

How much did the search for the ivory-billed woodpecker cost? According to this report, finding the ivory-billed woodpecker cost $1 million, and all funds were provided by private donors, and employed approximately 100 people who invested 20,000 hours into the search that yielded 16 sightings of the bird. So each sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker required an investment of 1,250 search hours (the equivalent of 31.25 5-day work weeks) and cost $62,500. Was it worth it? If I had access to the money, I would have happily invested it in that way, even if that meant I would have to eat rice and beans for the rest of my life.

Parrots in the News:

elcondormapThe Chilean Burrowing Parrot Project has a new and very nicely done webpage that is packed with information and photographs about the burrowing parrot, Cyanoliseus patagonus, commonly known as the Patagonian conure in the United States, where they are prized pets. Pictured is a thumbnail map of the southern portion of South America, where this colony-breeding parrot species is found. This website is available in both English and Castellano (Espanol).

People Helping Birds:

Key bird sites are better protected in new EU Member States, according to BirdLife International (BLI). BLI identifies and assesses internationally important sites for biodiversity, known as Important Bird Areas (IBAs). IBAs cover a diverse range of habitats such as lowland and mountain forests, wetlands, meadows and bogs that are important to the continued existence of birds, other animals and plants.

Birds in Zoos:

Some people believe that parrots are the longest-lived bird, but other birds also have long lives, as we learn in this charming story about Thaao, an Andean condor, Vultur gryphus, who recently celebrated his 75th birdday at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo. Guests participated in scavenger hunts in his honor and he was served a “roadkill piñata” packed with delicacies such as horsemeat and dead rats.

The San Francisco Zoo lost a dozen penguins when a Chlamydia outbreak killed them recently. “One quick exposure and you’re off and running,” said Bob Jenkins, the zoo’s director of animal care and conservation. He added that at its height, nearly 80 percent of the zoo’s penguin colony was infected. “It required very aggressive treatment on our part” to save them.

People Hurting Birds:

Are you killing birds with kindness? If you rarely wash and disinfect your bird feeder, then you could be. Songbirds that dine at dirty bird feeders are contracting a bacterial infection that is proving deadly to them. Please do your part to prevent this tragic loss of life by disinfecting your birdfeeder weekly.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is spilling into the natural areas surrounding its boundaries, and this unrestricted urban sprawl is threatening the continued existence of the black-capped vireo (a bird species), Arkansas River shiner and the Arkansas River pepper chub (fishes); and the plant called Waterfall’s dodder. This leads me to ask why can’t they build UP on land they have already destroyed instead of OUT into fresh areas that are already occupied by other sentient creatures?

Apathy leaves Europe’s farmland wildlife in an avian limbo, according to findings from a report by BirdLife International. Giovanna Pisano, Agricultural Policy Officer at BirdLife International said, “The protection of the countryside is being treated with contempt by many Member States. Cross-compliance has exposed the underlying failure of MS in implementing existing environmental legislation, which is in turn being ignored by farmers in most of Europe; yet these farmers are still receiving generous subsidies paid for by taxpayers.” This article links to the original report.

The Centre for Evidence-Based Conservation (CEBC) has published a comprehensive review of scientific literature on the impact of windfarms on bird populations around the world, as reported in this article by BirdLife International. The review suggests that windfarms should not be built near populations of birds with conservation importance, and more research needs to be done on the impact of offshore windfarms on vulnerable groups like ducks and waders.

Of Interest to Birders:

I have never met a birder who has everything but some apparently think they do. But seriously, the birder who thinks s/he has everything actually doesn’t until s/he has BirdPod. It sounds like the perfect gift for the enthusiastic birder-blogger in your life who rides the subway, in fact. Hrm .. I wonder who that might be?

In last week’s Birds in the News, I first mentioned the Boreal Songbird Initiative (BSI) website. This week, we learn that BSI is sponsoring a team of North America’s top birders who will compete May 14th in the world’s most competitive birding event, the World Series of Birding (WSB). The BSI team is highlighting North America’s greatest bird conservation opportunity, The Boreal Forest. The WSB is a grueling 24-hour (midnight-to-midnight) marathon of skill, planning, and endurance that pits teams of the world’s best birders in a sleep-deprived mad dash across the state of New Jersey with the goal of identifying more species of birds in the allotted time than any other team. Teams race from the state’s northern highlands to its southern ocean beaches, in the process often logging over 600 miles and stopping at 80-100 birding locations. Even though we all cannot be on site for the fun and mayhem, we can experience the next best thing because the BSI team is keeping a blog of their adventures. BSI is also sponsoring a contest to guess the number of boreal birds from the 260 species featured BSI’s online guide that the team will identify during the World Series. You can sponsor the team by pledging an amount for each species of boreal forest bird identified (the Boreal Birders expect to find at least 200 boreal species). Persons who pledge at least $0.50 per bird will receive a call from the team during the event to update them if they wish. Please email BSI at with your pledge amount and email address and BSI will contact you to let you know your final donation amount once the WSB has concluded.

Some of you might recall that the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival is underway this week at Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, Washington state. This festival, attended by upwards of 100,000 migrating shorebirds, some of whom have traveled as far as 15,000 miles, is generating lots of news and a lovely series of photos of migrating shorebirds. If you have never seen 100,000 shorebirds at the same time, now is your opportunity to view this breathtaking spectacle.

Reader Photoblog of the week:

Les Jones, fellow blogger and photographer, kindly provided permission to post these pictures here for the reader photoblog of the week. These are photographs that he took of endangered captive-bred hyacinthine macaws, Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, the largest parrot species in the world, which is native to Argentina. He photographed these birds during a visit to the Nashville Zoo. You can view larger versions of each photo in its own window by clicking on the image. While looking around the web for more interesting links to share with you about hyacinth macaws, I discovered this website, ARKive, which includes video footage of hyacinth macaws in a variety of formats for your viewing pleasure.

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Academic Job Applications: 1 (Adjunct Assistant Professor of Natural Science)

Academic Job Interviews: 1 (this afternoon, for an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biology for the first half of summer semester)


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

11 Peer Reviews:

Blogger Phila said...

Interesting about the BirdPod. I was considering devoting a playlist on mine to bird songs...perhaps I'll finally get around to it.

At I write this, a couple of quail are calling to each other. The chicks should be along shortly...every morning they pour through the holes in our fence and go digging through our leaf litter, while the parents watch from the fence posts.

Where I live is a bit expensive...but every time we think of moving, we worry whether we'll be able to find another house that's surrounded by quail families.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Miranda said...

Sending lots of amazing interview that leads to a job vibes this afternoon. Good luck!

4:17 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Oh Phila, you MUST take pictures of your quail chicks! If you get some pictures I'll post them as reader photoblog of the week (nevermind that you already have your own blog to post them to, you have to post them to MY blog anyway!)

Thanks for the good job interview vibes, Miranda .. I am probably going to write something about the interview this weekend because it was eye-opening. I will say, as a sort of preview to this upcoming blog entry, that going to this interview while I was still ill was not one of my better ideas!

6:31 PM  
Blogger Phila said...

I'll try! As you probably know, quail are about the most watchful parents on the face of the earth, and quail chicks are lightning fast. I took some pictures out of the bedroom window the last week, but they really didn't come out.

But if I can get some good ones, you - and you alone - shall have them!

6:39 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Phila ... I have no idea why, but it always makes me laugh to imagine such teensy, almost insubstantial, balls of fluff moving so fast.

You need to rig up a camera with a loooong string attached to the shutter so you can hide in your bedroom and pull the string when the chicks are in camera view.

Or you could dress up in a quail costume so you can get close enough to snap a picture. I am sure your local costume shop has one for rent!

8:06 PM  
Blogger Dr. Charles said...

cool update, especially liked the infectious disease homology with medicine. the birdpod is an interesting idea... since reading your blog i pay much more attention to the birds around me, and find that being outdoors makes for a pretty good random shuffle.

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Trix said...

Want. BirdPod. Now.
Our local (Canadian) species-at-risk (SARA) recommends tube-feeders and/or cleaning them with a light bleach/water solution to stop spreading birdie fungii and disease.

9:23 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hi Dr. Charles and once again, happy (late) birdday! It's good to see you here. I share your admiration for BirdPod, I want one so badly! (It even has a cool name!)

I am very happy to hear that my little birds in the news roundup has further opened your eyes to the birds around us. That is one of my goals for investing the time and effort into collecting and linking to all these stories .. safeguarding our precious birds (and other wildlife) begins with each one of us, every day. Our love and knowledge of nature only expands from there.

I have found that my friends tend to share bird stories with me, many of them seem to seek out birds just so they can tell me about them. Often, they see common species but I love hearing their stories anyway because I love hearing them describe their experience with the bird, I love hearing their perspective, the words they choose to describe the bird and its behavior -- all of that fills me with great joy.

Thanks Trix for mentioning the birdfeeder cleaning instructions. I neglected to post them despite the fact that I know people should be reminded of this as often as possible.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

What's the difference between an Adjunct Professor and an Adjunct Assistant Professor?

2:50 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Well, I use "Adjunct Professor" in the generic and technically incorrect sense. An "Adjunct" is simply a fancy phrase for "part time temporary teacher" at the college/university level (PT temp as in; without any sort of contract and, as you have probably surmised by now, without any of the benefits that make employment a reasonable occupation instead of, say, living off welfare instead). It's really a derogatory term because the word "Adjunct" means "non essential", although -- because we teach more than half of CUNY classes, for example -- nothing could be further from the truth!

Most people I run into on a daily basis have no idea what I am talking about when I mention that I am "an Adjunct", so I modified this to "Adjunct Professor". This has carried over to my blog where everyone knows that I am misusing the phrase.

An Assistant Professor is a person who merely has a PhD and minimal, or no, formal teaching experience. The tenure system apparently doesn't consider TAing, curricula design, teaching K-12 or even "contract" (non-tenure) college teaching as "formal teaching experience", to the best of my knowledge, although all those experiences seem to be advantageous when looking for a tenure-track position.

An Associate Professor is midway through the tenure process. As I understand it, the requirements that one must fulfill to be promoted to an "Associate Professor" vary somewhat between institutions.

A Professor (sometimes referred to as a "full Professor") is a person who has attained tenure. If they are an "Adjunct Professor", they are teaching at more than one institution.

And that, I imagine, is more than you will ever want to know about the university-level tenure process here in the USA.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

And that, I imagine, is more than you will ever want to know about the university-level tenure process here in the USA.

Considering that I'm going to be in this system in about five years, it is exactly what I want to know now about the process.

6:05 AM  

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