Friday, June 17, 2005

Birds in the News #15

Birds in Science:

The linked photo is from this short story (sent to me by a reader!) about convergent evolution between a bird and a plant species; African Plant Grows Perch for Birds.

Five additional species of moa have been identified by evolutionary biologists at Massey University in New Zealand. The researchers say they now have evidence that increases the number of known moa species from 10 to 14. One of the four additional species appears to be a giant moa of well over 140 kg – about the size of the largest moa, Dinornis. Their paper was published in a recent issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). This story also includes links to a picture of the new moa phylogeny and an interview with the scientists that is available in several different streaming formats.

National Geographic and National Public Radio (NPR) have teamed up to produce yet another wonderful story about birds, Searching Out 'The Singing Life of Birds'. This story discusses how Don Kroodsma, an avian song expert, studies birds and collects their songs. The story includes interviews, photos, the Radio Expeditions story (complete with lots of bird song!) and there are more links at the bottom of the story so you can learn more. You can also purchase Don Kroodsma's very affordable new book (with its own birdsong CD), The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong. (I do not receive anything for mentioning Don's book here, but if I do end up finding a copy of his book in my mailbox, gratis, I would happily review it on my blog).

Egg collecting, as a hobby, was responsible for driving many bird species perilously close to extinction. However, some egg collectors were responsible people who balanced their destructiveness by making careful notes that remain with their eggs to this day. This story describes how one family is trying to find a way to preserve their egg collection and allow the public to access it (museum egg collections are rarely on public display due to damage from light, heat and humidity).

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News:

This story was just sent to me by a reader, Ivory-billed Woodpecker viewing station goes up in smoke, probably as the result of arson. A reward is being offered for information leading to arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s) and contact information is provided. This story also has a few photographs.

Streaming Birds:

Last week's BirdNote discusses the song and song dialects of the white-crowned sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys, tells about pigeon guillemots, Cepphus columba, having fun, how nestlings leave their nests, and it also focuses on the barn owl, Tyto alba. Each news story is 2 minutes long. You can also access the BirdNote archive for all the shows, along with a photograph accompanying each day's subject.

People Helping Birds:

This story, endangered condors soar over Arizona skies, is a heartening update on the California condor, Gymnogyps californianus, project that has been ongoing since the early 1980s, when this species' population reached an all-time low. I fell in love with California condors when I met them at the Los Angeles zoo a few years ago and I look forward to the day when I, too, can see them soar above me on desert winds.

Another rare North American bird appears to be making a comeback. The least Bell's vireo, Vireo bellii pusillus, which breeds in the Central Valley in California, was seen raising chicks in a patch of restored habitat near the San Joaquin River for the first time in 60 years.

In this nice story about the apparent rapid recovery of the endangered Asian Black-faced Spoonbill, Platalea minor, as new wintering sites were identified for this species. Several points for concern; this species congregates in large groups in few wintering sites so this makes the entire population very vulnerable to disease and pollution along with other man-made disturbances. I hope we don't lose this species to avian influenza or to the resulting fear-driven and misguided eradication programs in many Asian countries, especially in China.

In a remarkable example of the potential value for "sustainable use" practices to prevent overexploitation of parrots, this story explores both sides of the controversial program initiated by the Venezuelan government.

People Hurting Birds:

The incredible stupidity and arrogance that people can exhibit never ceases to amaze me. This time, the US Army Corps of Engineers is destroying a small sandy island they built near the mouth of the Columbia River because Caspian terns are nesting on this island and feeding their chicks on rare or endangered salmon species smolts that migrate past. This island houses the world's largest Caspian tern, Sterna caspia, colony, along with many other avian species, such as the endangered brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, and a large mixed-species gull colony. So the Army Engineers plans to pursue their plan, despite the facts; that dozens of dams along this river and its tributaries are known to decimate wild salmon populations to near zero; that uncontrolled cattle farming has polluted and destroyed salmon spawning beds; that industrial and agricultural wastes have poisoned essential waterways; that clearing streamside trees that provide valuable shade to young salmon so one more "waterfront" house can be built; that overfishing remains unchecked .. no, nevermind any of those things! Instead, humans, Homo hubris militarensis, in their infinite er, "wisdom", have decided to destroy an artificial island that the Corps stupidly built when they dredged the Columbia River to make it suitable for ocean-going vessels. This is another example of the typical "blame the victim" mentality that short-sighted people are so eager to indulge themselves with.

Birds Hurting People:

As the result of a shocking display of avian aggression, London officials issued a warning over crow attacks occurring in London, UK, parks. "I thought they were very nasty, sinister things," said one frightened survivor. "Two of them focused in on me as I walked past. I couldn't help thinking of that Hitchcock film."

This story about avian attacks on humans was sent to me by a blog pal, Rexroth's Daughter (RD) at the blog, Dharma Bums. RD says this story of avian aggression is occurring in her old neighborhood in California. Incidentally, has anyone noticed that only black colored birds are receiving press coverage for attacking people, whereas other birds, such as owls, who also show similar levels of zeal when protecting nestlings, are not being reported?

Birds Hurting Car Mirrors:

This is a unique story about a male pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus, in Syracuse, NY, who attacked his reflection in car rear-view mirrors, breaking them. Complete with pictures!

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Academic Job Rejections: 1 (Adjunct Assistant Professor at the best school I've ever interviewed with. I am sooo bummed about this).

Non-academic job Rejections: 1 (web editor/writer for one of the finest avian websites known to humanity. I am bummed about this, too).


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

7 Peer Reviews:

Blogger BotanicalGirl said...

As for non-black colored birds attacking people, the (blue) scrub jays around here apparently have a nest in my co-workers orange tree. Every time she goes out to eat breakfast in her courtyard, they attack her head unless she's wearing a hat. To hear her tell the story in her Spanish accent is priceless. "The F***ing blue-birds, they attack me! *zoom* and then POKE."

1:28 PM  
Blogger Tabor said...

I love the African plant photo and always am intrigued by the changes in plants and animals as they evolve together. I also was miffed by the salmon/bird news. The salmon fishing industry has a large machine and they can move mountains as well as sand hills. We tinker and we tinker and we tinker.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Trix said...

Another fine and informative edition... good news about the Bell's vireo, and great story about the pileated! We've had a robin spend hours attacking one of our windows until we covered it in burlap. His relentlessness was astounding! I can't believe he didn't kill himself!

9:26 PM  
Blogger James said...

I just noticed the job news. I know this will seem trite, but please do keep plugging. Something decent will come through soon --- just don't give up.

7:23 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Heh, that's a funny story, BotanicalGirl!

Trix: I am very pleased to read that the least Bell's vireo is beginning to recover .. hopefully the trend will continue! It will be good news to those who have worked so hard to help this habitat recover, I hope they are celebrating because they deserve to!

I was also amused by your story about the robin and the windows .. I am glad to know that you covered them with burlap until the raging hormones abated somewhat. These poor birds .. can you imagine going through puberty every spring for the rest of your life??

I am trying to keep my chin up, James but some days, it is really difficult. But I will recover, I guess.

Tabor: I am writing an article about the salmon-tern-people situation in the PNW that you might be interested to read. I hope to publish it on my blog by this upcoming weekend (after I have graded all my students' midterms, sigh!)


9:15 AM  
Blogger Tabor said...

I am sorry, Hedwig, if this is a re-run...but have you posted this one yet?

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Campagne said...

Thank you for your blog ! It's very interesting and the presentation is very successful !

I am fascinated by bird too and I would like to do a Phd on bird's phylogeny.
I am just starting a blog on that subject. If you've got informations and advices...
Thank you again...

5:43 AM  

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