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.
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
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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.
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