Friday, July 08, 2005

Birds in the News #17

Birds Teaching People:

Is behavior correlated with brain size? Yes, according to scientists who recently published an article in the top-tier scientific journal, Nature. Daniel Sol of the Independent University of Barcelona and his research team determined that birds with bigger brains tend to stay put in the winter and are more innovative in their feeding habits. “Species with greater foraging flexibility seem to be able to cope with seasonal environments better, while less flexible species are forced to become migratory,” Sol said. The research paper recorded observations taken from 134 European bird species.

Many conservationists believe that habitat areas -- and animal populations -- must be linked by so-called “travel corridors” that allow easy movement. In this research article, published in the other top-tier scientific journal, Science, biologists fed wax myrtle fruits coated with fluorescent powder to migratory birds and then studied the movement of these birds by tracking their droppings using a fluorescent scope. The researchers learned that the birds followed so-called wildlife corridors through forested areas, a discovery that may prove useful for wildlife management. “There’s a lot of controversy over whether corridors work,” said Douglas Levey, a zoologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “It seems intuitive that they should work. But people see all the time that animals move though places that they shouldn’t be. So it’s unclear how much [animals] truly depend on corridors.”

Scientists are investigating whether a parrot hit on a concept that human mathematicians failed to grasp for centuries. Alex, a 28 year old African grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus, recently began — unprompted, and as the result of a temper tantrum — using the word “none” to describe an absence of quantity, according to researchers at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Although zero is an obvious notion for most of us, it wasn’t so for people long ago. Scholars say that zero came into widespread use in the West only in the 1600s; India began using it about a millennium earlier.

Wildlife biologists snap radio collars on ground squirrels, strap transmitters on bats and stick electronic devices on just about anything that moves. Yet now some scientists are asking “Should we do this? Are there other, less distressing, ways to get the data we need?”

Is there a practical reason to know more about bird songs, sounds and dialects? Yes. For example, a system that was recently installed to scare birds off the runway at Capital International Airport in Beijing, China used recorded sounds made by predatory birds. Not surprisingly, this did not work because it used the wrong bird species' sounds. As you might remember from earlier issues of Birds in the News, Bird-aircraft strikes are a major challenge for airports: Nearly 200 people have died worldwide as a result of such strikes since 1988.

People Helping Birds:

Good news: this is a rather long but interesting field update about several of the endangered California condors, Gymnogyps californianus, that have been released in Arizona.

A rare whooping crane, Grus americana, is spending the summer in Vermont after mysteriously veering 800 miles off course on its migration toward the Midwest. One of only about 400 such birds in the world, the 4 1⁄2-foot-tall female been in a river floodplain in the Lake Champlain valley since at least 9 June. “We’re not sure what she’s doing there, but she seems to be selecting proper habitat for whoopers,” Duff said. “We want to leave her there as long as possible and see if she can figure out her way back.”

Environmental experts in Volusia county, Florida are investigating the mysterious deaths of nearly 300 shearwaters (note the misspelling in the article) that were blown ashore recently. Shearwaters are small, pelagic birds classified in the avian order Procellariiformes.

Birds in the Media:

Believe it or not, Tom Cruise is waddling along in second place in the summer movie pecking order. ... and the first place film is? March of the Penguins -- a drama that follows the annual trek of emperor penguins, Aptenodytes forsteri, from the safety of the shoreline to their inland breeding grounds. The film documents how males incubate and protect the single egg for two months while females search for food. This is a delightful story about the filming of this movie (I know I already linked to several articles about this film in the previous issue of Birds in the News, but I couldn't resist linking to this story this week).

Do you need some help planning your next birding trip? Google Maps is a new (test) site to explore when preparing birding trips because it includes road maps as well as satellite images. For example, you can zoom in to a detailed map and then toggle to the satellite image of that area. Currently, this site only covers North America and Great Britain.

This week, the popular daily two-minute radio program, BirdNote, featured the bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, for the 4th of July, the broken-wing act of the killdeer, Charadrius vociferous, American robin, Turdus migratorius babies, Western sandpipers, Calidris mauri, and Birdwatching 101, Where to Look. Each story has its own RSS/Podcast feed.

Bird Eggs:

What bird species laid that egg whose beautiful shell you found on the ground this morning? There are several wonderful egg photo collections on the internet that you can access to answer this and other questions you might have about bird eggs. The best on-line collection of egg photographs are by the Provincial Museum of Alberta in Canada. However, if you are a bibliophile and wish to have a book to refer to, the best book I’ve found on the subject is A guide to the nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American Birds, 2nd. Edition, by PJ Baicich and CJO Harrison (1997, Academic Press). I do not know if the recent Princeton University Press reprint of this title has corrected the egg illustration for the marbled murrelet, Brachyramphus marmoratus (the original book erroneously substituted a picture of an egg for the ancient murrelet, Synthliboramphus antiquus) -- you, dear readers, will have to let me know the answer to this burning question.

Bird-Fun for the Kids:

Here is a web-based jigsaw puzzle of a zebra finch, Poephila guttata, in flight to entertain you while sitting in that boring meeting at work. Your kids might also enjoy it.

Birds, Birders and Terrorists:

It is not a surprise that Americans have been subjected to increased government restrictions and scrutiny at airports and elsewhere since the September 11 terrorist attacks. But it might be surprising to learn that birdwatchers have become a common target of increased security restrictions even though all they do is “walk quietly through the woods”. But those woods are often next to military bases, wastewater management plants and dams — places where government authorities fear that terrorists, disguised as birders, could lurk or strike. At popular bird watching sites across the country, birders are facing stricter regulations — in some cases being required to hire a police escort — as authorities beef up national security.

We Will Not Forget:

From a New Yorker

tags: , , , ,

Previous : : Birds in the News : : Next

Academic Job Interviews: 1 for a full-time position (they refused to tell me if it was tenure-track. Why? Probably because it is NOT tenure-track).

Honestly, I have no desire to interview for this job because this particular interview appears to be yet more futility as well as a huge waste of several weeks’ preparation time wrapped up in the bright illusion of high hopes and dreams that will be dashed, which will make me feel worse than I already feel, if that’s at all possible.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

7 Peer Reviews:

Anonymous pablo said...

Good to see a post on the site. I feared it was going to be named "Blog Interrupted."

8:05 AM  
Blogger James said...

I hope you go for the interview. Life is all about the grace one has in dealing with disappointments, and you have a lot of grace in you, more than I think you appreciate. You never know what may come of this, so it's ALWAYS worth the effort to go through it, do your best, but just don't expect anything to come from it --- if something does it's all the better. Bottom line, going gives you more experience in the process and it may turn something up that wasn't there before.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard, isn't it - sort of grinds you down. On the other hand, it's always seemed to me that job-hunting is like dating: painful, bitterly ego-shattering rejection after rejection, then all of a sudden, acceptance (and then the offers _pour_ in). The trouble is, you just don't know which one's going to be the acceptance.. I think you should go, and I think we all wish you luck! Sounds like you need a boost from Mike Doonesbury's mom, though. Keep in mind - you're a hot property, regardless of how many doofuses don't see it yet.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Ms.PhD said...

As the analogy with dating suggested, here is what worked for me for dating:

you'll only find the right person/job for you when you practice taoism. Keep trying, but the less you expect, the more you'll receive.

btw, Have you seen the daily tao widget for the OS X tiger dashboard? I'm obsessed with it (a very un-taoist thing to be, I know!).

anyway I haven't had the chance to have any feelings about interviews one way or the other.

I guess if you have had a few and aren't happy with the outcomes (by which I mean, you really liked them and they didn't give you an offer), it might be worth investing (I know you're poor) in a career coach who can help you with how you present yourself.

Obviously in writing you come across as very thoughtful, but let me give you an example. I have a friend who is very smart, but gets somewhat freaked out around people, doesn't answer questions well on the spot, and generally doesn't quite have the professional dress code working in her favor. And she has been having a terrible time getting a job, because she refuses to ask anyone for help! I'm not really in a position to tell her too much of the truth, being a friend and a younger, less experienced friend at that.

I have no idea if you have any of these things working against you, but it might be worth finding someone who will be honest and give you cold, hard, constructive criticism (although they may want cold, hard cash in return). I went to see one of these people, and I know that I for one need to get a new haircut before i try to look professional in public! But all kinds of body language stuff... I have to be careful not to telegraph everything with my fidgeting.

I guess I'm thinking about this because the AWIS bookclub just did a book on how beauty affects the way we respond to people. There's definitely data saying that it really does matter.

Constructive suggestions aside, I'm always amazed at how you continue to love birds and science and post all this information even though you say you're not in a great mood and you're frustrated with the job thing. I think it's great that you enjoy it so much. For me, it is something I have learned and worked hard at, but not necessarily something I fall back on when things aren't going well. I guess that's why I'm confident you'll get a job, and I think you'll get one this year. Call it a gut feeling.

hang in there-

5:56 PM  
Blogger Tabor said...

Good advice. Maybe you can get a friend who's a higher level supervisor and another friend to go through a test interview with you and ask them to judege you as if they were really going to to hire you and didn't know you and to give you their advice.

6:37 AM  
Blogger : Joseph j7uy5 said...

I've actually started to read some ornithology stuff because of your posts. Regarding this:

Wildlife biologists snap radio collars on ground squirrels, strap transmitters on bats and stick electronic devices on just about anything that moves. Yet now some scientists are asking “Should we do this? Are there other, less distressing, ways to get the data we need?”

I encountered this story:

Noninvasive sampling allows biologists to track changes in populations over time without the risks associated with handling live animals, she said.

12:15 PM  
Blogger jamie said...

Birds doing math, omg they're so gonna take over one day. I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode where the dolphins came back out of the ocean.

Dr. Pepperberg should get a female Grey to do this math thing, or some folks might try to argue . . . nah, they wouldn't do that, would they?

7:17 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home