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:
The 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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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