Friday, May 27, 2005

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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© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

4 Peer Reviews:

Blogger latina marie said...

at the administration building of the lab where i work, there is this crazy mocking bird that resides in a tree near the front entrance to the building. every spring/early summer, this bird forces all the employees who have business to attend to in the admin building to use the side entrance rather than front entrance, lest they be dive-bombed by an angry bird. i know that the bird is only protecting her eggs, and really, i think it's funny when we all receive an email from someone in admin warning us to use the side entrance because the bird is doing its dive-bombing act again.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

Hedwig-- Another great round-up of the week's bird news. It is so sad to me that every week there are links to articles under the heading People Hurting Birds. I really wish that category would go empty week after week.
We finally got a photograph of a bald eagle yesterday. I put the digital camera up to one side of the binoculars and clicked away. It worked. I'm going to do a post on it next week. The eagles were out and about-- soaring over the main street in town.

10:54 AM  
Blogger jamie said...

So, the fine for illegally exporting 28 parrots is only $1800!?! Hardly more than the retail price of one Moluccan, hardly cost-prohibitive. I wonder, though, wether this problem should be addressed on the supply or demand end, meaning that the locals who are catching the birds probably have limited economic options anyway.

I'm reminded of the PBS doc. on Macaws, where a biologist was hiring locals to help conserve and protect Hyacinths to counteract their catching them for sale/ exportation. Anyway, another great post. Thanks.

2:54 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

latina marie; My new school has mockingbirds on the campus, too. I spent part of my interview morning pishing at a singing male mockingbird who was highly offended by my audacity. I am thinking of naming my school "Mockingbird U" for this reason.

I saw your lovely eagle soaring photos on your blog, RD and I am both pleased and jealous that you are in my home range, enjoying its beauties.

I like the idea of hiring locals to conserve the local wildlife, Jamie. This makes so much sense in view of the fact that the locals will want to use their wildlife in some way, and this is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

10:54 AM  

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