Birds in the News #22 - Extinction is Forever
Red Knot, Calidris canutus rufa, in nuptial plumage.
Image courtesy of Arthur Morris/www.birdsasart.com
As many of my regular readers know, the Eastern population of the Red Knot, Calidris canutus rufa, is rapidly sliding into extinction. The cause is a dramatic decline in the bird's food, horseshoe crab eggs, due to overharvesting. Horseshoe crab eggs are essential to fuel these birds' annual 12,000 mile migration. A bird pal, Jim, found a website sponsored by the American Bird Conservancy where you can help save this beautiful bird by demanding an emergency moratorium on the horseshoe crab harvest in Delaware Bay. Click here for more information and pictures of the amazing red knot. The picture above appears here with the kind permission of bird photographer, Arthur Morris, at Birds as Art.
People Helping Birds:
Recent research has shown that organic farms are better for wildlife than conventional farms. Researchers who spent five years monitoring 180 farms across lowland England found that organic fields supported more plant species, spiders, birds and bats than those treated with non-organic pesticides. This survey was carried out by scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Unit.
This story tells how the popular film The Parrots of Telegraph Hill was made. Filmmaker Judy Irving spent 4.5 years following the star, Mark Bittner, and his feral parrot companions with a camera. Irving says, "It's tough to get good nature footage. You have to wait around, and you miss a lot. And a lot ends up on the cutting room floor. I spent 21 days, for instance, under a tree, waiting for a baby bird to fledge. I didn't have any money, but I had lots of time." GrrlScientist note: If she had asked me, I would have been able to tell her about fledging times for that species, cutting down her wait time to several days.
BirdLife Botswana recently held its first bird field guide training course, inspired by the success of similar courses created and run by BirdLife South Africa. BirdLife South Africa’s venture into avitourism less than two years ago was an innovative way of involving local people in bird conservation whilst also giving them an invested interest in caring for local birds. During this time, more than 150 local bird guides have been trained, and guides on the Zululand Birding Route alone have earned more than R250,000 in guiding fees. If you are planning a birding trip to either of these areas, be sure to support BirdLife's program by hiring one of their guides.
People Hurting Birds:
Time appears to be running out for New Zealand's cute little kiwis, Apteryx species, despite efforts to save the flightless bird from extinction, according to a report in the International Journal of Vertebrate Zoology. The birds are frequent victims of people's pet cats, dogs and other non-native predators. The kiwi is a protected species and is the focus of the Kiwi Recovery Programme launched by New Zealand agencies in 1991.
In this sad story, we learn that the Khor al-Beidah lagoon -- bird-filled wetlands -- are significantly diminishing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) due to dredging and construction aimed at attracting tourists. The crown jewels of the planned $3.3 billion luxury development at Khor al-Beidah, which consist of homes, shops, marinas and beach resorts, are the private villas to be built on artificial islands with gated access and views over one rare remaining mangrove archipelagos in the Persian Gulf. A half-million migratory birds stop at the Khor al-Beidah lagoon every year. It is one of the last such natural places remaining in the UAE. GrrlScientist wonders: If this development is completed at Khor al-Beidah lagoon, what will tourists who stay there have to look at?
Avian Zoonotics News:
Sadly, six more dead birds that were infected with the mosquito-borne West Nile virus were discovered in San Diego County, reported the county's Department of Environmental Health on 11 August. This discovery brings the total number of birds that have tested positive for West Nile virus in SD county to 11. This linked article provides contact information where residents can report dead birds to the appropriate health officials. "It is important that the community continues reporting dead birds," said Gary Erbeck, director of the county Department of Environmental Health. "It allows us to focus our resources where the virus is found."
Finally, an effective avian influenza vaccine has been developed. But there is a problem: it is so dilute that two separate large doses are required before the human immune system is triggered to fight back.
According to this story, a race to purchase limited stocks of 'Tamiflu', which is the only known drug capable of stopping an epidemic of the deadly avian flu, has intensified the divide between the developed and developing world. If left unchecked, this divide could have disastrous consequences for all. Not surprisingly, this disparity is the result of the speed with which the developed world, led by the United States, is using its financial muscle to acquire global stocks of the drug that health authorities say is the most potent anti-flu medicine currently available.
The bird flu outbreak in Siberia is subsiding and should disappear altogether in 10 to 15 days, a World Health Organization specialist said Tuesday. The Emergency Situations Ministry reported that the number of deaths among domestic and wild birds was just 15 overnight compared with a total of 5,583 since mid-July.
Of course, since bird flu is in Siberia, it is a short distance for migratory birds to travel to enter the United States, so officials are carefully monitoring the situation. This linked story includes a map detailing the Pan-Pacific flyways that birds traditionally follow during migration.
This opinion piece shows how evolution of the avian influenza virus is making monkeys out of researchers by mutating into new forms that are not recognized by the immune system after vaccination.
This interesting interview with science writer Laurie Garrett explores whether we are prepared for avian influenza. Laurie Garrett is the only journalist to win the the Peabody, the Polk and the Pulitzer prizes.
What happened to Poland's storks? This story reports that thousands of stork couples have disappeared during migration, and those that return are not producing enough chicks. As ornithologists try to figure out what went wrong for the storks this year, new dangers lie ahead: European Union agricultural subsidies have begun flowing into the country, and Polish farmers are gearing up to modernize their operations. A major transformation of the Polish countryside already is under way, a bad omen for the bird whose appearance each spring is always taken as a good omen.
This previous week on the popular streaming radio broadcast BirdNote, they featured the Flammulated Owl, Otus flammeolus; Ospreys, Pandion haliaetus, nesting on cell phone transmission towers; the Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dendroica coronata; birding from the ferry; and a Native American myth, How Raven Made the Tide. This site includes pictures of these featured species. Each show is two minutes long and is available as a RSS/PodCast Feed. BirdNote can be heard live on Monday through Friday mornings between 8:58-9:00 throughout Western Washington and Southwest British Columbia.
This interesting piece discusses the recent flurry of rediscovered 'extinct' birds, which raises hopes that more might be rediscovered soon. What does this mean? Why are we seeing these species now? "We think we've explored the planet when we haven't. We have this assumption that we know it all but we don't," says Nigel Collar of UK-based conservation group BirdLife International. Despite the new finds, BirdLife cautions that the overall situation of the world's birds is worsening. [Pictured: The long-legged warbler, Trichocichla rufa, was once feared extinct because it was not seen by experts since 1894. The long-legged warbler was found alive and well in the mountains of Fiji in 2003.]
I can't help but link to this interesting news story about the very talented and talkative Einstein, an African grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus erithacus, who lives at the Knoxville Zoo. "African Greys naturally like to mimic sounds," trainer Stephanie White said. "She's pretty exceptional, though. Not all African Greys are like her. She really enjoys mimicking things. If she hears a sound that she likes, she'll start to repeat it over and over. Then we'll put it on cue. She gets a lot of these sounds like us oinking like pigs."
Thanks to my bird pals Jim, Ellen, Ian and Ron for some of the links you are enjoying here. Thanks also to photographer Arthur Morris for providing the lovely photograph of a red knot that appears at the top.
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Academic Job News: none, yet. Ho-hum. Although .. the chair of the science department at Sweatshop U (where I taught this past spring semester) did leave a voicemail yesterday, asking me to teach this autumn semester. Many thoughts occur to me regarding this request, and none of them are gentle.
Non-academic Job Rejections: 1, for a web editor position that I interviewed for about six months ago. I'd forgotten I had applied until they reminded me with their rejection letter!
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