Friday, November 25, 2005

Birds in the News #37

Portrait of the endangered Whooping Crane, Grus americana

Birds in Science

Removing an egg from the endangered whooping crane's nest increases the species' chances of survival despite governmental concerns about tampering with nature, says a University of Alberta scientist. Dr. Mark Boyce, from the Faculty of Science, studied the policy of removing from Wood Buffalo National Park one of two whooping crane, Grus americana (pictured top), eggs laid and raising it in a "foster-parenting" program. Cranes usually rear a single chick and the other dies to siblicide or is killed by a predator, such as wolf or fox. The egg-removal program was initiated years ago by Ernie Kuyt, an Edmonton-based scientist who reasoned that one egg could be taken and used for artificial propagation programs. The idea was so successful, says Boyce, that the whooping crane's numbers have skyrocketed to over 200 birds in the original population and two new populations have been established elsewhere. But Parks Canada prefers that no future egg collections occur in Wood Buffalo National Park due to concerns that egg removals may reduce the productivity of the whooping crane population and that more generally, human intervention and disturbance should be minimized. Boyce's research found, however, that taking one egg away actually increases the probability of nest success. His paper, co-authored by Subhash Lele from the U of A's mathematical and statistical sciences department as well as Brian Johns from the Canadian Wildlife Service, is published in the December issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Biological Conservation.

European songbirds are canceling their annual winter breaks in Africa, preferring instead to fly to Great Britain, bird experts say. The surprising detour in European warbler migrations was revealed by data from an ongoing survey that involves bird-watchers across Britain. It's as if the birds are now saying, "Let's not bother to go all the way to Africa this winter," said Greg Conway, a researcher with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who runs the survey.

People Helping Birds

A report commissioned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) showed that more than half of the 60 species of migratory birds of prey found in Africa and Eurasia face extinction, either globally or within their regions. "Of all types of birds, birds of prey have always fascinated people," UK Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight said this week at the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species in Kenya. Fortunately, Britain has put forward a plan for international action to protect such rare birds of prey as eagles, vultures and owls from extinction. If the 93 signatories of the convention agree by the end of the conference on Friday to commit to the British proposal, the UK will organise an intergovernmental conference to work out further details, Knight said. So far Britain, backed by all its 24 European Union partners, has outlined priorities for the protection of the threatened species, said a DEFRA spokeswoman in Nairobi.

People Hurting Birds

The Kori Bustard, Ardeotis kori (pictured), is the world’s largest bustard and it occurs across sub-Saharan Africa. Although this species is still common in some protected areas, it is currently experiencing rapid population declines across much of its range. Botswana is a stronghold for the species, but it is threatened by habitat loss due to overgrazing and poaching. BirdLife Botswana has undertaken an investigation of Kori Bustard poaching and found the practice to be widespread, both for local consumption and for export to South Africa and beyond. "We found that many Kori Bustards are poached for local consumption, mainly by men over 30,” says BirdLife Botswana’s Kabelo Senyatso. “Snares are mostly used to kill birds in KGR, whilst guns are favored in KTP. In some areas only tribal elders are allowed to eat bustard meat. Sometimes a traditional doctor is brought in to 'treat' it before it is eaten, because of a belief that bustard meat can otherwise cause mental illness."

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News

Scientists and birders will resume their search this winter for the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, to prove, once and for all, that the bird really lives in the vast eastern Arkansas wetlands. "The birds are relatively silent," said Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and member of the search team. "The woods, they're like a jungle, just thick foliage, just incredibly hot, humid, buggy and snakes everywhere. Everything about it is just as bad as could be." A crew from Cornell and its partner agencies will train 100 volunteers for the six-month search of 500,000 acres, Gallagher said.

Avian Influenza News

Countries that ban the import of wild birds to stave off deadly avian flu may drive the trade underground and make it more difficult to detect the spread of the virus, a senior UN scientist warned on Sunday. A number of countries, including European Union members, have slapped a ban on the import of live birds and feathers in a desperate attempt to contain the spread of the virus. "As long as there is a demand, there will be a trade and you can't stamp out illegal trade by banning the legal trade," David Morgan, head of the Scientific Support Unit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

A respected Japanese scientist, who works with the World Health Organization, says 300 people have died of H5N1 bird flu in China, including seven cases caused by human-to-human transmission. He says he was given the information in confidence by Chinese colleagues who have been threatened with arrest if they disclosed the extent of the problem. The allegations, which he revealed at a meeting in Germany, contrast sharply with China’s official position. GrrlScientist wonders Oh, right. And this is the same government that claims benzene poisoning is not occurring at this very moment.

Streaming Birds

Did any of you hear the story about Sandhill cranes on National Public Radio's Morning Edition this past Tuesday morning? I did and I liked it, and I think you will like it, too.

On BirdNote, for the week of November 21, we consider the LBBs and LBJs, the little brown birds and the little brown jobs so frustrating to new birders; a bit about feeding birds in winter; ducks in eclipse plumage; and on Thanksgiving day, what else? the Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo (pictured); and "Which Jay Was That?" -- about the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, and another blue jay, the Steller's Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri. BirdNote programs are two-minute vignettes that incorporate the rich sounds of birds provided by Cornell University and by other sound recordists, with photographs and written stories that illustrate the interesting -- and in some cases, truly amazing -- abilities of birds. Some of the shows are Pacific Northwest-oriented, but many are of general interest. BirdNote can be heard live, Monday through Friday, 8:58-9:00AM in Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia on KPLU radio and now also in North Central Washington state on KOHO radio. All episodes are available in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs. [mp3/podcast].

Miscellaneous Birds

I normally don't link to obituaries, but this one is rather interesting, especially for the bird banders out there. Jane Olyphant of Lake Elmo, New Jersey, was a licensed bird bander for 45 years. During her lifetime, she fastened tiny aluminum bands on 84,000 birds, most of them migratory songbirds. With a license granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she banded her first bird, a white-breasted nuthatch, in her back yard on Oct. 1, 1959. "Young people stare spellbound when they see a small, vibrant, alert bird first in the net and then in my hand," she wrote of her nature-center teaching in the November-December 1977 edition of the Minnesota Volunteer, a newsletter of the Department of Natural Resources. The biggest challenge was "to help them become aware of life going on around them and to explain the vital role birds play in the world."

Thanks to my bird pals; Caren, Ellen and Ron for some of the links you are enjoying here. Please accept my apologies for the lateness of this issue of Birds in the News. I am having trouble locating a consistent internet connection and this is particularly apparent (and annoying) on holidays, when my internet options are seriously limited.

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Included with the Big Apple Blog Festival
Issue 16.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

6 Peer Reviews:

Anonymous Kathy Connelly said...

Small correction: Although Jane Olyphant was born in NJ, she spent most of her life in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.

5:25 PM  
Blogger jamie said...

What should we make of the banning of wild bird importation here? Parrots shouldn't be imported anyway, H5N1 or not. They aren't "pets." Banning and thwarting their importation seems, to me, like a good thing. Even if some individuals do carry H5N1, they aren't, as indoor companions, exposing native populations to the virus. Besides, providing an appropriately enriched environment for a companion parrot is no small job, and that's quite an understatement. I shudder to think that 1.5 million are "traded." There are more than enough waiting for adoption, for those of us willing and able to accomodate their great needs . . . Parrots are not pets!

Another great BITN, though, Hedwig.

5:36 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Kathy; thanks for the correction.

Jamie; parrots and other exotic birds are not routinely imported into the USA and haven't been for more than a decade. They are imported under certain circumstances and in very limited numbers, or they are imported by scientists or zoological gardens.

By the way, do you realize that I live with a flock of pet parrots? True, all are captive-raised and not wild-caught birds, but I wasn't sure if you knew this. (I assume your comments are about wild parrots' pet qualities).


4:39 PM  
Blogger jamie said...

Oh, yes, and what I mean is parrots aren't 'pets' in the traditional sense, aren't domesticated, but more like small children (both in resources required and reward!). I live with a large parrot, and I often get offers to take in unwanted parrots whose peoples, I guess, thought having a parrot would be like have a talking hamster or something.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

I just Googled my gramma Jane Olyphant, and was very touched to find your link to her story on your blog. Thank you for helping to share her legacy. She was a special, amazing woman, and you don't know how neat it is to find other people talking about her.

10:34 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Melissa; there are not enough birds, nor enough bird lovers, in this world, so I am very happy to share the stories of these extrordinary people here. According to what I read in the obituary, your grandmother was truly amazing.

I would like to encourage my readers to click on Melissa's name because it is linked to a photo of Melissa with her grandmother, holding a goldfinch.


6:07 PM  

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