Birds in the News #13
Birds in Science and Environment
While carrying out some tasks, humans have a tendency to devote more visual attention to the left side of the visual world than the right side, a phenomenon known as pseudoneglect. Researchers now report that pseudoneglect is shared with birds, suggesting that it may reflect an evolutionary adaptation that allows animals to devote attention to multiple aspects of their environment. This also suggests that brain structures that are currently thought to play a role in pseudoneglect may not actually be essential for this phenomenon.
Recently published research shows that the world's biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, threatening human well-being and future development. This presents a crisis that requires new thinking about conservation, says a sweeping international report released on Thursday. This report, prepared by the U.N. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment with the cooperation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, blames biodiversity change on a number of factors including habitat destruction, climate change, pollution and over-exploitation of resources.
Another recent report sounds the alarm again that the red knot, Calidris canutus, could become extinct in 5 years. The red knot is a migratory shorebird that weighs less than 5 ounces (142 grams), that feeds on horseshoe crab eggs while completing its 10,000-mile (16,093-km) migration from Tierra del Fuego in Argentina to its breeding grounds in Arctic Canada.
Biologists believe their old methods of finding spotted owls, Strix occidentalis, which relied on owls hooting in response to biologists' calls, may not be working as well as in the past. Scientists think spotted owls may be keeping quiet so as not to reveal their whereabouts to newly invading predators -- and that may be leading timber companies to erroneously conclude that the protected birds are absent from places where they actually still live.
What is causing the dramatic decline of the lesser spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos minor, and other woodland birds in Great Britain? In the past 30 years, the lesser spotted woodpecker has declined by 80%, alarming observers. In fact, all woodland birds are rapidly becoming scarse. Possible causes include a population explosion of introduced species or removal of too many dead trees, which woodpeckers rely on for insect larvae. These stories reveal the complexities of ecosystem mangement.
Black-necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus. [Reuters Photo]
Many places in India are also experiencing loss of birds and other rare animals as valuable habitat is destroyed. This story, Distress calls, sadly observes; it is almost like a big farce that each one of us is pulling on the other. We have not realised that the joke's on us, each one of us, on our water, our air, our forests, our wildlife; the very systems without which we would not be. [...] What's happened in Sariska is only a blip on the radar, more like a bad dream. It is merely a symptom of a malaise that runs deep.
People Helping Birds:
Can bird watchers make significant contributions to the science of ornithology? This opinion piece describes how birders are helping to preserve bird populations while contributing new information about birds to science.
One example of "citizen science" in action is this story, which shows that windows take a toll on bird populations. This story not only describes the observed problem and the studies that provided the data that further define the problem, but it also proposes solutions to reduce or stop mortalities from birds flying into windows.
This short story tells the story of recovery for Comanche, a badly injured eagle in West Virginia.
After discovering 178 migratory birds that died from avian influenza, China began vaccinating three million migratory birds against bird flu in the province of Qinghai on Monday. Migratory birds, especially waterfowl, have been widely blamed for the spread of avian influenza throughout Asia. However, there is "no ultimate proof" that the bird flu is spread by migratory birds, says the head of the Chinese Ornithology Society, Song Jie. I agree: officials throughout Asia should closely examine their poultry handling practices, including ranching, marketing, and slaughter, and they also need to stop cockfighting, which is the probably the primary culprit for distributing bird flu far and wide.
Ivory-billed Woodpecker News:
Another member of the ivory-billed woodpecker search team, Mindy LaBranche, tells the story of her sighting of the elusive bird as it flew past her one rainy day.
Why has the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, so electified the public? This interview with Phillip Hoose, author of the book, The Race to Find the Lord God Bird, might provide some insight. This article describes the history of the ivory-billed woodpecker's decline in the southern USA. But perhaps one reader captured the public's response best in his letter to the editor of The Advocate; "The ivory bill is a precious, tenuous link to our real Southern heritage. We have a rare, tangible chance to go back in time and save something we thought was lost, but now, amazingly, is found."
People Hurting Birds:
In a shocking display of human cruelty, a pair of introduced mute swans, Cygnus olor, were beaten, stabbed and then killed in a NYC park while they apparently tried to defend their nest. The birds' bodies were discovered near their eggs, which were taken to an emergency animal shelter and incubated. Surprisingly, this small act of kindness has paid off nicely because the eggs are hatching.
Officials on the Caribbean island country of Trinidad and Tobago confiscated thousands of birds and other animals from a couple who ran an illegal wildlife smuggling and distribution operation. The couple sold these protected and endangered animals to pet stores throughout nearby Venezuela.
A Chinese-registered logging vessel was found to be smuggling endangered parrots from the Solomon Islands, according to this story.
Birds Hurting People:
This is a humorous update on Houston's great tailed grackles, Quiscalus mexicanus, that are hammering passersby on the head.
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