Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Living the Scientific Life is keeping its original name but it has moved to its new home at ScienceBlogs, a project of Seed Media. This original site will remain here because I don't want to break any existing links, so it will serve as my "deep archives". You are welcome to link to both sites.

I am mirroring Birds in the News at this site until the end of January for two reasons; first, I want to break 100,000 visits (for purely egotistical purposes) and second, I want to give the Koufax Award visitors some new content to look at while they decide whether they want to investigate the new site -- where there is a LOT of new material -- while they decide whether they want vote for me.

Scroll down to see content that was added prior to 31 January.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Sunday, January 29, 2006

100,000 Dead Mice

Yesterday, Scientific Life surpassed 100,000 visitors. In fact, visitor number 100,000 popped into here shortly before 6pm. What brought this visitor here? Dead mice, that's what! This person googled the phrase, "how long does a dead mouse smell" and guess whose blog pops up?

Okay, for those of you who want to know about dead mice, I will tell you that they smell horrible for approximately 3-4 days. After that, they still smell but it's not as bad as it was -- perhaps because your sense of smell has been so severely compromised that you are no longer aware of it?

Also, I've noticed that dead mice smell differently, depending upon how they die. Mice that died after being stuck in sticky traps tend to smell like really dirty laundry, whereas mice that die after eating poison containing warfarin tend to smell like, well, dead mice, but there's a sweet smell mixed in with the stench. I hope this answers all your dead mouse questions. If not, feel free to ask and I will provide the answers because we all know that I am the internet expert of dead mice.

So, those of you who know that I was mirroring Birds in the News here are probably curious to know if attaining the magical 100,000 visits was personally satisfying to me, if all my problems are solved as a result. I'd like to say that yes, having more than 100,000 visitors who have looked at my site for information about dead mice (and other things) that polite people don't talk about is tremendously satisfying to me. I think my next step will be to use my new-found confidence to run for the presidency of this country so I can forevermore eradicate evil house mice and the landlords who love them.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, January 27, 2006

Birds in the News #45

Female Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus.
By Bill Ferensen, Seattle.
(click image for Bill's site)

People Hurting Birds

Deceived by all the bird flu sensationalism, an Egyptian farmer abandoned 10,000 newly hatched chicks to their fate on a desert road east of Cairo fearing they might be infected with the deadly bird flu virus, a police official said on Wednesday. Shocked motorists travelling on the road about 130 km (80 miles) east of Cairo contacted police after seeing the chicks running loose on the tarmac on Tuesday, the official added. Health officials gathered the chicks and confirmed after testing that they were not carrying the virus.

Birds .. proving once again that People Really Are Monkeys

There's nothing that stirs man's blood like the thrill of the hunt. The fact that the object of this hunt, a feral monk parrot, Myiopsitta monachus (pictured), was destined to become a pet to this particular man's girlfriend only added to this thrill. I don't want to spoil this story for you by elaborating further, except to say that it is an Honorable Mention on the Darwin Awards website. GrrlScientist observes: it's amazing what a little testosterone can do to a person.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News

As scientists debate whether the ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis (pictured), still exists in the Big Woods of Arkansas, environmentalists have enlisted the bird as a key soldier in their fight against a massive irrigation project. The irrigation project has been on the table since the mid-1980s, when studies showed that groundwater aquifers in the area, which lies in east-central Arkansas, were being depleted by rice growers. To solve that, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Grand Prairie Area Demonstration Project is working with farmers to build reservoirs on their land and elsewhere that will be filled via a canal and pipeline network with water pumped from the White River. But Lisa Swann of the National Wildlife Federation and other groups have long fought the Grand Prairie project as a federal boondoggle that poses serious environmental threats and squanders tax dollars to deliver huge subsidies to farmers. This “mammoth sucking machine” would hurt wetlands, degrade water quality and threaten species in the region from ducks to mussels, the National Wildlife Federation says in one publication about Grand Prairie.

Avian Influenza News

Scientists who have made a big leap in unraveling the genetic code of bird flu viruses (pictured) found a new clue that may help explain why the notorious H5N1 strain is so deadly. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee (USA), is home to a remarkable viral library, housing samples of about 11,000 influenza viruses that Dr. Robert Webster has gathered from around the world since 1976. These flu viruses have infected people, pigs and other animals, and includes approximately 7,000 bird flu viruses gathered from poultry, ducks, gulls and other species. Yesterday, St. Jude researchers reported in the top-tier journal Science that they have completed the first large genetic analysis of more than 300 of these bird flu viruses. They identified 2,196 bird flu genes and 160 complete viral genomes, doubling the amount of genetic information available to scientists studying how these viruses evolve and spread over time. Decoding all the influenza genes instead of select ones will help scientists learn how these constantly evolving viruses change and spread, and why some are so much more virulent than others.

Turkey accused its neighbours on Friday of hushing up outbreaks of bird flu, complicating the fight against a virus that has killed four Turkish children. "It is unofficially known that this illness exists in our neighbouring countries which are ruled by closed regimes, but these countries do not declare this because of their systems," Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker told a news conference. He did not name the countries he had in mind, but Iran and Syria are two likely targets of the criticism. Turkey has culled more than 1.1 million wild birds and poultry since the outbreak began two weeks ago. The outbreak has hit the $3 billion poultry industry hard. The Turkish government unveiled a $40 million aid package on Friday for poultry firms hit by bird flu, including compensation for culled chickens and postponement of tax and debt payments. However, poultry industry representatives said the measures did not go far enough. GrrlScientist complains; this story does not describe what poultry industry officials wanted that was not granted by the government, so this makes it impossible for me to rant about the situation here.

Do the wild birds that fly through cold winter skies to warmer lands silently carry deadly bird flu around the world? Or are they simply potential victims? "Scientists are increasingly convinced that at least some migratory waterfowl are now carrying the H5N1 virus in its highly pathogenic form, sometimes over long distances, and introducing the virus to poultry flocks in areas that lie along their migratory routes," the World Health Organisation said in its latest bird flu fact sheet last week. It said scientists found that viruses from the most recently affected countries, all of which lie along migratory routes, were almost identical to viruses recovered from dead migratory birds at Qinghai Lake in China. The viruses from Turkey's first human cases were also virtually identical to the Qinghai Lake strain, it added. "I think that wild birds may introduce the virus but it is through man and man's marketing systems (the poultry trade) that the disease spreads. It is also possible that poultry can transmit the virus to wildlife when they share the same ecosystem," said Juan Lubroth, the senior officer for infectious diseases with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). "The pattern of outbreaks between Asia and eastern Europe do not follow any known pathway for migrant birds, which tend to fly on northerly-southerly routes. They don't go east-west, Dr Richard Thomas of BirdLife International points out. Wild birds that were discovered to have the H5 virus, such as swans found in Croatia in October 2005, were already dead -- suggesting they were victims rather than vectors.

Streaming Birds

This week on BirdNote you can learn more about Western Scrub-Jays, Aphelocoma californica, on the Move; The Comeback of the Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus (featuring Ruth Taylor's photograph of Bell, the resident female peregrine falcon, nesting on the Washington Mutual Bank (WAMU) tower in downtown Seattle); Nesting Great Horned Owls, Bubo virginianus (first of a series about the nesting season); How the Robin Got its Name; and on Friday (today), you can learn more about the upcoming Skagit Bald Eagle Festival (February 4-5). 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. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [rss mp3/podcast].

You might be interested to follow the birding adventures of David and his wife, Gayle, as presented on their audio magazine of birds and birding, On The Wing. They index a variety of their birding adventures in the UK and other places, including some of my old stomping grounds in the Pacific Northwest. [mp3/podcast].

Miscellaneous Birds

The parents of Toga -- the penguin chick whose disappearance last month was followed around the world -- have a new egg (pictured), British zookeepers said this week, prompting dozens of well-wishers to send congratulatory e-mails. Toga, a 3-month-old jackass penguin, Sphenicus demersis, disappeared in December from Amazon World, on the Isle of Wight in southern England. Despite scores of reported sightings and an on-air confession from a man who called a television station to admit to stealing the bird, Toga has not been found and is presumed dead. Zoo officials have installed closed circuit television cameras and motion sensors to make sure that Toga's expected sibling remains safely with his parents, who are a rare species of penguin found on the southern coast of Africa.

While the cost of chasing birds to the far corners of the earth is high, virtually everyone afflicted with this obsession claims the rewards -- beauty, mystery, awe and longer lists -- are well worth it. ''A tiny warbler that weighs maybe 3 ounces and is not more than 3 inches long can fly from the edge of the taiga in Canada to Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. The more you see them, the more amazing they are to you. You can't ever get enough,'' says Financial reporter Christine Williamson, who lives in Chicago when she is not chasing birds across the globe. American birders spend over $32 billion annually on their hobby and about 18 million travel to see birds, according to a 2001 study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The average birder that year was 49 with an above-average income and education level. ''In addition to seeing these incredibly beautiful and diverse birds, ranging from flightless penguins to little tiny hummingbirds, it takes you to places that are just stunning and show a diversity of life and the diversity of this planet,'' said Tom Snetsinger. Tom is the son of legendary birder, Phoebe Snetsinger who saw more birds -- 8,450 of the world's approximately 10,000 species -- than any other person who ever lived. Phoebe Snetsinger was already an avid birder when she was given less than a year to live after a diagnosis of malignant melanoma, so she hurled herself into birding trips more than ever. She ended up living another two decades before dying in a bus crash in Madagascar. ''Birding is a lens to look at the world. It guides me to places I'd otherwise never go,'' said Tom. GrrlScientist note: I absolutely agree with Tom. I have experienced more habitat types, learned more about ecology and geology, met more people, seen more animals and had more incredible experiences as a direct result of birding than most people I know -- except other birders with more money!

There is an epidemic of bird ticks this winter in the Carolina Piedmont, and it's right on schedule. For some super-close-up photos and intriguing information about these gloriously repulsive ectoparasites, please scroll down on the link provided to This Week at Hilton Pond. As always, they include a list of birds banded during the period, including several mugshots of a partial albino American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis (pictured). Fortunately, they also include suggestions for dealing with a tick-infested bird.

The Fine Print: Thanks to my bird pals; Dawn, Joel, Bill, Larry, Ellen and Ron for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here.

I also appreciate long-time readers, Jamie, Tony and anonymous blog reader, for nominating
Birds in the News for a 2005 Koufax Award for Best Series! Voting will probably begin at the end of January. There will be an announcement here, along with more details, when voting begins.

Previous : : Birds in the News : : Next

tags: , , , ,

Academic Job Applications: none sent this week, but I am preparing to send out several postdoc applications soon.

Survival Job Applications: none this week. The academic semester has begun, so I can plan on becoming quite lean over the next five months unless someone decides to hire me.

Survival Job Rejections: 1


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, January 20, 2006

Birds in the News #44

Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis.
Photo by Arthur Morris, Birds as Art.

Birds in Science

Two University of Canterbury biologists are part of a team whose evolutionarily-informed approach to conservation is aiding the recovery of New Zealand’s critically endangered parrot, the kakapo, Strigops habroptilus (pictured). Bruce Robertson and Neil Gemmell, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, are members of a research team that has just had a paper published in the Royal Society of London’s prestigious journal Biology Letters. The manuscript outlines how the team, led by Robertson, used sex allocation theory to remedy a conservation dilemma. A key prediction of sex allocation theory is that females in good condition should produce more sons. The kakapo, which today has a population of 86 located on a handful of small island sanctuaries, is the subject of much global conservation interest. They only breed every two to five years and about 58% of eggs do not hatch. Providing breeding females with extra food over the past decade has improved breeding frequency and chick survival, but at a recently-recognised cost: females in better condition were producing more sons. “Left unchecked, the recovery of this already male-biased species could be prolonged by more than 100 years, dramatically increasing the risk of losing this charismatic bird to extinction,” Dr Robertson said. Only females below a predicted breeding threshold weight were given ad libitum food in the months before commencement of mating in mid-January to bring them up to the desired optimum weight. Females above the predicted breeding weight threshold were put on a diet to avoid raising their body condition to that previously associated with male-bias sex allocation. “This is a world first, using evolutionary theory to inform conservation practises and the first time anyone has used sex allocation theory to manipulate sex ratios with a critically endangered species. Our work has not only remedied the immediate problem of an overproduction of sons, but also highlights the value of incorporating evolutionary theory into modern conservation practice."

People Helping Birds

Ridgway's Hawk, Buteo ridgwayi (pictured), is a forest raptor endemic to the New World island of Hispaniola. Once commonly distributed throughout the island, the hawk has been reduced in the last century to a single declining population of 80 to 120 pairs, confined to less than 208 km2 of native rainforest in the Dominican Republic's Los Haitises National Park. In 2004, the Peregrine Fund, York University (Canada) and the Sociedad Ornitológica de la Hispaniola initiated a research project to examine the nesting ecology and conservation genetics of Ridgway's Hawk. This is the first time that nests have been monitored in detail since the species was listed as Critically Endangered. Researchers found that human disturbance was the number one cause for nest failure for these critically endangered birds. [BirdLife Caribbean Newsletter PDF 2.5 MB]

A team of international bird experts will begin surveying the Bangladeshi coast Tuesday in search of the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper, Eurynorhynchus pygmeus (pictured), whose population they believe has dwindled to just 350 pairs in the wild, organizers said Monday. The spoon-billed sandpiper, a small shore bird with a bill shaped like a teaspoon, lives and breeds in the Russian tundra. After a long, arduous journey of nearly 3,730 miles, these birds winter along the coastal areas of Bangladesh, India and Myanmar. The population of the species has been declining over the years for a combination of reasons, and a 2000-2005 survey found an estimated 300-350 breeding pairs in sparsely populated Siberia, said Christoph Zockler from Cambridge, England who will lead the Bangladesh survey. "We ringed some young birds, but none returned home to breed. So what's going on?" said Zockler, who has been following the birds for five years. "We hope to uncover the mystery along the fly path." Enam Ul Haque, a Bangladesh water fowl census coordinator said; "We hope our survey will yield results that will help save them."

The biggest ever British Birdwatching Fair has produced record funds for vital conservation work in the forests of south-east Asia. Over 18,000 bird-watchers and wildlife enthusiasts visited the British Birdwatching Fair in August 2005. The three-day annual event is held at Rutland Water and is jointly promoted by the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. Martin Davies, the RSPB’s International Funding Unit manager and one of the organisers of the Bird Fair, expressed his delight at the contribution the event can make to international projects. "From the wetlands of Madagascar to the dry forests of Peru, conservation projects have been directly helped by funds raised at the Birdfair. British birdwatchers should be truly proud of what they have been able to help achieve," he said.

Stinky needs a free ride to Florida, and soon. An Onslow County wildlife center in North Carolina is looking for help in transporting a juvenile brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis (pictured at top), to a new home in Miami. "Stinky" was found starving and injured on the beach in Surf City in December, when he was just four months old. He now has an eight-foot wing-span and smells pungently of fish after recovering at Possumwood Acres in Hubert. The Pelican Harbor Seabird Station in Miami has agreed to take him. But transporting Stinky is the problem: Possumwood Acres can't afford the cost of moving the bird. Officials say a free flight would be the optimum solution to ensure that the bird is fed the way he needs to be during travel and to limit stress, while also providing great public relations for the airlines that decides to help out.

People Hurting Birds

In India, Pakistan and Nepal, vultures are teetering on the brink of extinction. Their rapid decline has been blamed on a veterinary drug, diclofenac, which the vultures ingest when feeding off treated cattle carcasses. New research shows the widely used anti-inflammatory drug is highly toxic to an entire family of vultures and may cause the birds' demise around the globe (pictured: Oriental white-backed vulture, Gyps bengalensis). The situation was "extremely urgent," said Debbie Pain, a research scientist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England. "Populations of three vulture species affected by diclofenac in South Asia have declined by more than 97 percent since the early 1990s," Pain said. Vultures play a critical role in human and environmental health. For example, when cows die in India and Pakistan, it is custom to leave the carcasses where they are. In India, this is partly due to religious Hindu reasons because the cow is considered sacred. The rotting carcasses also become breeding grounds for diseases such as anthrax. "If a carcass is unconsumed for a day, anthrax within the animal has a chance to form spores, and these spores are incredibly resistant," said Rick Watson of the Peregrine Fund in Boise, Idaho. "That's how the disease spreads. So you set yourself up for increased incidence of disease -- both animal and human."

Birds Annoying People

Terre Haute, Indiana, has become the Panama City of America’s crow population. But at least that Florida coastal town gets some economic jolt from the college students who flock there for spring break. While those kids might throw up on the Panama City sidewalks, they’re also spending money on hotels, food and party supplies. There are other cities on the crows’ list of vacation hotspots. For example, their roost in Auburn, NY, mushroomed to 63,000 birds in 2004 before that town took action. “They seem to like to come into the city,” Auburn Mayor Tim Lattimore said by telephone last week. “They’re very intelligent birds. Very social birds. On weekends, their cousins fly in to visit.” Their tactics included using pyrotechnics similar to those in Terre Haute, accompanied by recorded crow distress calls and handheld laser lights. Auburn paid the New York USDA division $13,000 for the work, but the federal agency spent $32,000 itself on the project. It worked. “It was a real positive experience,” Chipman said.

Avian Influenza News

Much has been written in recent months about the role of wild birds in spreading the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus. But there is a distinct lack of evidence to support these assertions. "No species migrates from Qinghai, China, west to Eastern Europe," says Dr Richard Thomas, BirdLife International's Communications Manager. "When plotted, the pattern of outbreaks follows major road and rail routes, not flyways. And the absence of outbreaks in Africa, South and South-East Asia and Australasia this autumn is hard to explain, if wild birds are the primary carriers." Movement of infected poultry and poultry products is a likely cause of spread. South Korea and Japan are two countries to have suffered outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry and wild birds following importation of infected duck meat. Both countries stamped the virus out by culling infected poultry around disease areas, and imposed strict controls on poultry and poultry meat imports. "Neither country has suffered a recurrence of the virus despite the influx each autumn of hundreds of thousands of wild migrant birds," Richard Thomas points out. GrrlScientist note: I have been saying this very thing for years, based on traditional migratory paths of wild birds compared to the dates and locations when influenza outbreaks are first identified. It's about time that this information becomes more widely known and accepted.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday it expected more human cases of bird flu following the death of four people in Turkey, but said the risks to humans were steadily diminishing. The WHO confirmed laboratory test results in Ankara, which revealed that four people from two families in eastern Turkey died of bird flu this month and a further 16, mostly children, were infected with the H5N1 virus. "We do expect to see some (more) cases because it takes time before the virus in birds has completely disappeared," said Dr. Guenael Rodier, head of the WHO mission to Turkey and an expert in communicable diseases. Human victims had been confined to East Asia until this month, when three infected children from the same family died in eastern Turkey, showing the deadly H5N1 strain had reached the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. "Now is the right time to look beyond outbreak control to look at medium- and long-term efforts, particularly on the animal side, and also keep a constant surveillance in Turkey and neighbouring countries," he said.

Would you estimate the percentage of movie fans in the world by polling at a cinema? Would you calculate the number of overweight Americans by taking a survey at Weight Watchers locations? Not if you were aiming for any sort of statistical accuracy; such methods would not give you samples at all representative of a larger population. Regrettably, just this sort of sampling bias may have lead to huge errors in avian flu mortality numbers. While stony-faced newscasters somberly report that more than 50% of people infected with avian flu ultimately die, the death rate may be much lower. A study published in the January 9th issue of Archives of Internal Medicine found that as many as 600 to 750 people in Vietnam may have come down with a mild variant of the avian flu—one that does not carry lethal consequences. This suggests that current mortality estimates, which are derived from only the most severely ill patients, are biased. We may be underestimating the virus' transmission rate while overestimating the deadliness of avian flu. "Our study suggests that this milder form may be more prevalent than the more deadly disease that we heard about earlier," said Anna Thorson, a researcher at the Sweden's Karolinska University Hospital and lead author of the study.

Thousands of chickens mysteriously dropped dead at several farms in Trinidad over the last four weeks but authorities ruled out the deadly bird flu virus as the cause. "What they are saying to me is that [avian influenza] is not to be worried about," Narine told a local radio station. Narine said health officials believed the chickens in Trinidad were dying because of a fungal disease of the respiratory tract caused by Aspergillus fumigatus, a kind of mold (pictured). GrrlScientist note: Aspergillosis infection is very common in birds kept in conditions with overcrowding, poor hygiene and with little or no ventillation. In two words; chicken farms.

Streaming Birds

The schedule for this week on BirdNote is .. Monday, the call of the loon; Tuesday, seabirds in decline; Wednesday, migratory owls; Thursday, Bohemian Waxwings, Bombycilla garrulus; and Friday, a swirl of Snow Geese Anser caerulescens. 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. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [mp3/podcast].

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News

Jerome Jackson's long anticipated comments regarding the Ivory-billed Woodpecker have finally been published by the Auk (123:1-15, 2006), one of three top-tier ornithological journals in the world. This article is publically available as a free download courtesy of the American Ornithologists' Union. [PDF, 15 pp.] The cover, which features the art of Julie Zickefoose, for this issue of Auk will appear here as soon as it is released.

Parrots in the News

Parrots were big in the news this week. Our first story is about a pet parrot who attacked a man who broke into its owner's apartment, and the resulting bite and blood marks helped police identify the suspect. A blue and gold macaw hybrid named Sunshine attacked Michael L. Deeter, 44, after he broke into the apartment, police said. Sunshine had blood on its beak and Deeter had marks on his hand consistent with those made by a parrot. Deeter told police the bird bit him very hard after he entered James Erb's apartment and he still had the marks to prove it when he was arrested, authorities said. He allegedly got away with about $100 and a camcorder. As for the bird, Sunshine did not come away unscathed -- all but one of its large tail feathers had been pulled out.

Our second parrot story describes how a gossipy parrot split up a pair of lovebirds when a computer programmer discovered that his girlfriend was having an affair when his pet parrot kept repeating her lover's name. The African grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus (pictured), named Ziggy, kept repeating "I love you, Gary" as his owner, Chris Taylor, sat with girlfriend Suzy Collins on the sofa of their shared flat in Leeds, northern England. But when Taylor saw Collins's embarrassed reaction, he realized she had been having an affair -- meeting her lover in the flat whilst Ziggy looked on. Ziggy even mimicked Collins's voice each time she answered her telephone, calling out "Hiya Gary," according to newspaper reports. "I wasn't sorry to see the back of Suzy after what she did, but it really broke my heart to let Ziggy go," Taylor said. Taylor revealed that he had also parted from Ziggy because the bird continued to call out Gary's name in his ex-girlfriend's voice, media reports said. GrrlScientist note; this is actually an old news story that I've linked to in Birds in the News, issue 38. But this time, I received 8 or 9 reader recommendations to include this link in this issue, more than I've ever gotten for any news story since I've been putting these things together, so here is the story again, by popular demand.

Our third parrot story tells how the movie star parrots (pictured, photo by Eric Luse) from San Francisco's Telegraph Hill just might get a happily-ever-after ending to the real-life saga of their favorite trees. In a finale fit for a sequel to their big-screen debut, the birds' beloved Monterey cypresses appear close to being spared from the ax. "We want to save those trees," said Mark Bittner, who wrote the best-selling book about the colorful birds and co-starred with them in a popular documentary film. The parrots "are my friends, and if I didn't help them, it would be absurd." An agreement could be reached as early as this week in a highly publicized, long-running feud between a property owner who wants to chop down the cluster of trees he sees as a liability and parrot lovers so intent on saving them that they have thrown themselves in front of buzzing chain saws. "It's a very emotional issue," Foster said. "On one side you have a group that has a relationship with the birds, and on the other hand you have a property owner with a liability issue."

Miscellaneous Birds

US Geological Survey has a National Wildlife Health Center webpage listing a variety of free books about animal health issues for download as PDFs in English, Spanish and Italian. Included in this listing is the beautifully illustrated 30-page Avian Necropsy Manual for Biologists in Remote Refuges [PDF, 2.87 MB], as well as important online information such as Coping with Diseases at Bird Feeders.

Fewer migrating ducks, geese and wading birds are wintering in the UK because they are staying closer to their Arctic breeding grounds due to climate change. New studies by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have revealed that ducks, geese and waders are attracted by the relatively warmer winter conditions in the Gulf Stream that protects the British Isles but, claims the BTO, global warming could be persuading migrating birds to stay in cooler northern and eastern waters. Signs are growing that all is not well for a range of geese, ducks and wading birds. Species such as the grey (black-bellied) plover, Pluvialis squatarola, and dark-bellied brent goose, Branta bernicla bernicla (pictured), whose populations peaked in the early 1990s, after long periods of increase, numbers are now declining steadily.

With more than 18,000 collectible owl memorabilia, Pam Barker half-kiddingly thought she might have a world's record. The Guinness Book of World Records has now certified that she was right. Barker, 47, sent her count, a video and photographs to Guinness last spring. A couple of weeks ago, she got a certificate verifying her claim. The collection - all 18,055 items - had been owned by Dianne Turner, a collector who had recently died. A family friend was cleaning out the house and put the owls up for sale for $7,000. Barker offered about half. Although Barker didn't know Turner, she's put the world record in Turner's name. "Her husband gave her three owls after they got married," Barker said. "That started it all." Barker is now selling off the collection, and has priced everything in the store. She'll sell it piece-by-piece if she has to, although she'd like to find a home for the entire collection. "My husband would like his store back," she said.

This week, the 300th installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond," the ongoing series of photo essays about natural history in the Carolina Piedmont -- and beyond. This week, the Piedmont naturalists describe a very unusual bird captured for banding at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History near York, SC. They include a mini-quiz and photos of this mystery bird on their site, a tally of birds banded during the week, plus some miscellaneous nature observations.

The Fine Print: Thanks to my bird pals, Ian, Mary, Arpit, Christine, Mike, Bill, Caren, Sara, Ellen and Ron for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here. Thanks to Ian for fact-checking this document.

I also appreciate long-time readers, Jamie, Tony and anonymous blog reader, for nominating
Birds in the News for a 2005 Koufax Award for Best Series! Voting will probably begin at the end of January. There will be an announcement here, along with more details, when voting begins.

Previous : : Birds in the News : : Next

tags: , , , ,

Survival Job Applications: none this week. After an unending stream of negativity and rejection, I decided to begin my first formal week of unemployment in 2006 by hiding in snowy Morris, Minnesota, thanks to help from a lot friends (I've actually been unemployed since 23 December 2005 but was too depressed to register with the unemployment office until last week).


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Gaining on Second Place!!

I am not sure how many more hours this poll is open, but today's results show that I am gaining on second place! Not bad for a scientist, huh? If you haven't voted yet, or if you are using a different computer or different IP address from the last time you voted, be sure to take this opportunity to vote for Scientific Life for "Biggest Blog Whore"! Or heck, just vote anyway. It only takes one second.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tangled Bank Available .. I think!

The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is online at Greythumb, however, I am having trouble accessing that site. Can anyone else see it? If so, what is the magical OS-browser combination that you are using?

Tangled Bank is looking for volunteers to host future editions once again. If you are interested in hosting, please send email to PZ. I know that I have my most favorite time slot lined up already, so it is time for you to also throw your hat into the ring and help spread the good news about science blogging!


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Slipping in the Polls!

Even though I try not to obsess about the polls, I do check them several times per day and I am sad to report that, after yesterday afternoon's peak support level of 16%, I have fallen to a mere 13% of the popular support in the "Biggest Blog Whore" poll. Out of 651 votes cast, I have received only 87 votes! HORRORS!

I hope you know this is practice for the REAL polls that will be initiated at the end of the month .. if I can't convince you to vote for Scientific Life in this poll, how can I convince you to vote for me (or for Birds in the News) in those other polls??


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Who Are You, Dear Readers?

Reader demographics for the previous 100 visitors to this site.

I love looking at my stat meter, mostly because I am intensely curious to know who reads my blog and what country you are from. I know that I have a fair number of regular readers, most of whom lurk, never commenting and never sending email to me. Since I will be leaving this blog at the end of the month and moving to a new, more professional, site, I want you to come with me to that new site, and of course, I want it to be a success. So I am curious, who are you, dear readers? Where are you from? Why do you read my humble blog? What topics do you like most, and what topics would you like to read more about? What else would you like to tell me that might help me improve my blog? You can, of course, send these comments to me in email, but I prefer that you comment here so other people can also read what you have to say, and therefore might be encouraged to add their comments, too.

I also want to remind you that comments are currently on email moderation as a precaution against William, the spam-meister, and his ilk, which means that there will be a delay between the time you post your comments and the time until they appear, but don't let that discourage you.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Monday, January 16, 2006

Big Apple Blog Festival Shows Outstanding Support in Polls

Nominated (!!) to the Big Apple Blog Festival
Issue 24.

I am getting an unexpected show of support in the polls from this issue of the Big Apple Blog Festival! Many thanks to Shouting Thomas for nominating me!


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Still Third

Scientific Life is still in third place, my peeps, although it appears to be picking up a little momentum because now it has 14% of the popular vote.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Saturday, January 14, 2006


I am in third place! Out of 231 votes cast so far, Scientific Life has only received 27 votes for "Biggest Blog Whore"! Where did you go, dear readers? We've got to do better!


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, January 13, 2006

Blog Award Poll

I am a finalist for a Best of Blogs (BoB) Award in the category of "Biggest Blog Whore". If you would like to vote for me, please go here and scroll down to this category. You can vote once every 24 hours.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Birds in the News #43

Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis
copyright by Ted Steinke.

Birds in Science;

Researchers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, believe they have located a place in the brain where songbirds store the memories of their parents' songs. The discovery has implications for humans, because humans and songbirds are among the few animals that learn to vocalize by imitating their caregivers. In a paper published this week in the top scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, David Vicario and Mimi Phan of Rutgers, and Carolyn Pytte of Wesleyan University, report that songbirds store the memory of caregivers' songs in a part of the brain involved in hearing. This suggests the auditory version of the caregiver's song is stored first, and that it may serve to guide the vocal learning process. "There is independent evidence, notably from work done by Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington in Seattle, that something similar may underlie the acquisition of human speech by infants and, thus, be part of the mechanism that allows kids to learn any human language if they start early enough," Vicario says. "If the processes of learning in young birds and human babies have formal similarities, which it now seems they do, then studying the songbird brain can tell us how this imitation trick is actually performed by cells in the brain," Vicario says. "The bird's brain provides a laboratory for studying how memories that underlie vocal learning are stored in the brain and how the stored memories are used to guide the development of vocalization."

It has long been my opinion that feather picking in birds is a compulsive habit with an underlying genetic component that is triggered by stress, but I've had little evidence to support this assertion. But recently, Purdue researchers found that abnormal repetitive behaviors, such as feather picking, are influenced by a combination of stress and genetics. Abnormal repetitive behaviors in both humans and animals settle into two basic categories: stereotypies (the mechanical repetition of the same posture, movement or speech), and compulsive behaviors (such as plucking out feathers). According to the study, feather picking was affected by a number of factors, including genetics, gender (it was more severe in females), and location. The behavior was progressively worse in birds housed closer to the door when they had a direct line of sight to the door. Parrots with cages that didn't have a view of the door were less likely to feather pick. There was no evidence that the birds learned this behavior by observing plucking birds. "It reinforces this general message of how important physical and social enrichment for these birds really is. Well thought-out physical and social environments should be first thing we think of," said study author Joseph Garner, an assistant professor of animal sciences at Purdue University School of Agriculture. The findings, which appear in the January issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, may provide new ways to study compulsive behavior in humans.

Birds Hurting People:

new imageAn 80 year old debate about who killed the single most important human ancestor has finally been laid to rest. The announcement that the Taung child (Australopithecus africanus, 2.5 million BP) was killed by an eagle was made on Thursday by Professor Lee Berger at an international conference held at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg. Since the Taung child's discovery in 1924, leopards or sabre-toothed cats have always been blamed for the child's death. But ten years ago, Berger and Dr Ron Clarke of Wits challenged the world's scientific community with the idea that the little Taung child had probably been killed by a large bird of prey. "While some colleagues accepted that the damage to the Taung fossil monkeys was probably made by a bird of prey, the majority felt that apemen, even baby apemen like the Taung child, were way too large, sophisticated and organised to be taken by an eagle," says Berger, who is now a reader in palaeoanthropology at Wits. "The one big problem was the lack of multiple areas of damage on the Taung child itself that could be linked to a bird of prey," says Berger. "We had one little flap of bone on the top of the skull that looked like some of the damage we see made by eagles, and nothing else. Most of my colleagues felt we had reached the end of the road in solving this problem. It was the ultimate two-million-year-old cold case!" But the McGraw paper went further than any previous research. "They also found one suite of characters I had never before seen described, characters that were unique to eagle-damaged skulls and were sure clues to raptor involvement," Berger explains. Both journal papers detailing the discoveries will appear shortly in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Physical Anthropology. [another story with a linked slideshow]

People Helping Birds:

Western Grebes, Aechmophorus occidentalis (pictured at top), elegant seabirds that were battered by high winds, pounding rain and rough surf from recent storms were recently found waterlogged and emaciated along the coast of Washington state, and a local animal support group is helping them recuperate. The weak birds were rescued and taken to PAWs where they were cleaned, dried and are currently being fed with feeding tubes. After they get stronger, they will be introduced to water and allowed to preen and condition their feathers properly. It is estimated that the birds will be healthy and their feathers in good enough condition so that they can be released back into the wild in a couple of weeks.

A rare bird of prey has been spotted in a garden in east London, England. Experts hope the sighting of a red kite, Milvus milvus, in Hackney is proof the species is making a comeback to an area it thrived in during medieval times. Living on discarded food, red kites were once considered pests and almost hunted to extinction in 1880. The species was reintroduced to the Chilterns in the mid-20th Century - experts think this bird was a juvenile from a successful breeding pair. An RSPB spokesman said: "We always hoped the Chiltern birds would spread and there is now strong evidence that they are venturing into London."

The Endangered Black-faced Spoonbill, Platalea minor (pictured), native to the Tainan area of Taiwan, has reached a historical high of 939 birds on 21 November 2005. In the winter of 1989-1990, the known global population of Black-faced Spoonbill was just 294 birds.

Two rice paddies with neighboring coastal areas are unusual candidates among the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) proposed for Cuba. IBAs are normally located in natural areas, and single-crop cultivation is not what typically comes to mind when one thinks of bird conservation. However, in Cuba, rice cultivation goes through a wet and dry cycle, and since rice is grown constantly over large expanses, there are always fields in varying stages of flooding and draining, leading to high levels of vertebrate and invertebrate biodiversity. The first of these proposed IBAs is the Costa Sur de Sancti Spiritus while the second IBA consists of a similar environment and is located in the south of Pinar del Río province. Financed by the Whitley Fund for Nature and implemented by the group Ecología de Aves from the Universidad de la Habana's Biology Department, a conservation project titled Rice Paddies and Natural Wetlands as Conservation Sites for Aquatic Birds is being developed for both areas.

In November 2005, BirdLife International Cambodia project staff counted up to 70 White-shouldered Ibis, Pseudibis davisoni, at wetlands in Western Siem Pang Important Bird Area (IBA). The White-shouldered Ibis is a large ibis that inhabits lakes, pools, marshes and slow-flowing watercourses in open lowland dipterocarp forests that are often subject to seasonal flooding. This bird also occurs in sparsely wooded, dry or wet grasslands and wide rivers with sand and gravel bars. Populations have declined as a result of anthropogenic disturbances (habitat loss, logging and drainage of wetlands, hunting, harassment, livestock grazing, grass harvesting, and so-called "development"). Previously, the highest counts of this species were 23 in January 2003 and 33 in November 2004. These new counts are highly significant as upper estimates of this Critically Endangered species' population are of just 250 mature individuals. 40 individuals were still present in December 2005.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News

Nova's Science Now has a website devoted to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker that includes a 7 minute streaming broadcast, interviews with amateur birders, and an Ask the Experts segment.

Streaming Birds

This week on BirdNote, they talk about birds mobbing a Northern Pygmy-Owl, Glaucidium gnoma; next, a topic that is near and dear to my heart, urban parakeets and parrots; also, how feathers insulate; the "early bird" ... why it may not be the lucky bird; and today's show asks, What's your jinx bird? 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. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [mp3/podcast].

Miscellaneous Birds

The northwestern coast of the United States is experiencing an irruption of snowy owls, Bubo scandiacus. The birds visit Oregon every few years from their home range above the Arctic Circle, says Dan Gleason, who teaches ornithology each summer at the University of Oregon. "They go in cycles," Gleason said. "Every few years, big numbers of them start moving farther south. Some of the old literature says that as the lemming population increases up north, so do the snowy owls. Then as the lemming population crashes, they move south." Though they often travel here in winter, apparently looking for open areas that resemble their native tundra, the big white birds have never set up breeding territories in Oregon. "It used to be thought that the birds who got down here were starving," Gleason said. "That is probably not true. The birds down here are quite healthy and may, in fact, return to the Arctic for the breeding season."

Strictly speaking, this is not solely about birds, but it is an important announcement nonetheless: the entire retinue of AMNH publications is now available free and online, including American Museum Novitates (complete back to 2004, work is ongoing to digitize all of this publication), Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (back to 1907), Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (back to 1881!), and the Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History (back to 1893).

The Fine Print: Thanks to my bird pals, Dawn, Caren, Mike, Mary, Sara, Ian, Ellen B. and Ron for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here, and special thanks to Tom for sending the best ribs in the whole USA to me. I am sharing them with PZ and family this coming week (ssshh! It's a secret: they don't know this yet!). Special thanks to long-time readers, Jamie, Tony and anonymous blog reader, for surprising me by nominating Birds in the News for a 2005 Koufax Award for Best Series! There will be an announcement here, along with more details, when voting begins.

Previous : : Birds in the News : : Next

tags: , , , ,

Survival Job Applications: four applications sent out for adjunct appointments. I later learned that one application was added to a tenure-track job search for a job that I might actually be qualified for.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Rumors Are True

To the best of my knowledge, I haved never been the subject of gossip before, probably because I am the most boring person whom you could ever know. However, an e-magazine, Element broke the news today that Scientific Life and several other science blogs will be moving to a new location. This has not exactly been a secret because I have hinted here several times in the previous months that I will be moving to a new server, and some friends and colleagues have been following the development of this project behind the scenes, but the details of this move are something that you, as readers, probably want to know, and should know, in my opinion.

Scientific Life is moving soon to a spiffy new server provided by Seed Media Group, which publishes Seed Magazine, among other things. Seed Media Group, the parent organization, is a science media and entertainment company that is dedicated to developing world-class science content across digital media channels. Indicative of their interest in science, they have some really interesting people on their board of directors, including Nobel Prize winner James Watson who, along with Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, co-discovered the structure of DNA. Because I am a molecular biologist, these people have attained near-legendary status in my world, along with Mullis, and Darwin and Wallace, and Avery, MacLeod and McCarty, along with a host of others who have made important scientific advances.

Seed's ScienceBlogs is a community of science bloggers from around the world who, it is hoped, will provide one location for cutting-edge, up-to-date and sometimes, behind the scenes, scientific information to the general public. To this end, they are designing the site to meet our needs, a process that is still ongoing, so you will see a variety of changes there in the next few months as new features are implimented. (I, for example, have a great idea for my masthead, which has not been designed yet. I also am trying to get a different wallpaper from the standard one they offer, and there are a few cute little features that I will be adding soon, too).

We will be paid to write our blogs after we move. The initial pay scale is based on the traffic to our current sites, and then will be based on the traffic to our new site after the move; more traffic means a bigger paycheck, of course. The sum that each of us is paid is small, but may possibly increase in the future (for example, I will earn just enough to pay for a wireless connection from my apartment).

There will be advertising on our blogs. I am not sure if any of you know my philosophy about ads, but I know you have noticed that I have never had any ads here. There is a reason for this; I hate 'em. But the reality is that supporting this project would not be possible without advertising, even if we weren't paid for writing -- and in fact, us bloggers are the "most affordable" aspect in this entire project. The equipment and the IT experts necessary to support this project are very expensive. But I have been assured that these ads will be "tastefully done" and further, if there is a particular ad that I don't want on my site, the IT folks at Seed will write a filter that prevents it from appearing there.

In my opinion, the most important aspect for you to know about this move is that, as scientist-bloggers in the Seed community, we will never be subject to any editorial oversight. So basically, we will write essays and commentary about the same topics that we always have written about, argue with IDiots, host blog carnivals (yippee!), answer memes, online quizzes and indulge in other silliness, and basically carry on as we always have done.

Currently, new commentaries/essays that I publish will be mirrored on my new site. I am still learning how to use the publishing platform, Movable Type, and I am experimenting with the template. I will be posting essays here until the end of January (my birthday!), when I will formalize my move by leaving this site as linkable archives, close down reader comments to avoid those annoying spamweasels (do you hear me, William?), and focus my blog writing energies on my new site.

As the author of a mere "baby blog", I am thrilled and honored beyond words to be invited into this little online scientific community. I am proud to say that I am friends with several of my "sibling bloggers" in this online community and I hope to become friends with all of them over time. I am so excited about this move and its promise for providing high-quality scientific information to the public, and I hope that you, dear readers, are too.

You are welcome to make suggestions, ask questions or voice any concerns that you have and I'll do my best to answer them.

Some of my "sibling bloggers" have made a formal announcement to their readers or have already made the move;

Cognitive Daily, a team blog by Greta Munger and her husband, Dave Munger

Evolgen, who used this opportunity to change the name of his blog to Clash, Culture and Science

Dr. FreeRide, who reveals her real name and face on her new site

Deltoid, by Tim Lambert

Pharyngula, by PZ Myers

tags: , ,


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Truth About BoB and the Owl

Yesterday, despite my illness, I managed to struggle to an upright position (someone has to feed the birds so they don't riot), checked my email, and then discovered that Scientific Life is listed as a finalist in the Second Annual Best of Blogs Awards. Gee, until just now, I had no idea that the BoBs existed and yet, out of more than 2,000 nominees, here I am, a finalist in one of their categories! But which category is Scientific Life in? Is it in "Best Science Blog"? No. Is it in "Best Bird Blog"? Nope. Is it in "Best Unclassifiable Blog"? NO! Put on your rubbers (I mean galoshes, of course), dear readers, because Scientific Life is a finalist in the "Biggest Blog Whore" category.

What exactly is a blog whore? Apparently, engaging in shameless self-promotion (i.e.; participating in blog carnivals), in addition to referring to all three of you as "dear readers", has qualified me as a finalist for this unique blog award category.

Even though I don't stand a ghost of a chance of winning against the likes of WebKittyn (who will win solely based on her name), I learned that winning this award is a Really Good Thing; besides impressing potential employers by mentioning this award on my CV, I also win ...

Prize Package - First Place:

    One year FREE blog hosting from WiredHub.net Web Hosting Solutions, plus a FREE upgrade to the next level of service when the free period expires
    FREE porting of your existing blog to WiredHub.net from One by One Media
    $10 credit on the AdGenta blog ad network from Qumana Software
    Ad-free license for the RSS reader Lektora from Qumana Software

So, when the polls open, throw a few votes in my direction, okay? Like everyone, I love free stuff, especially internet-related free stuff.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Wow, someone out there named Shawn Rawls likes me! And he sent me a cute little graphic to put on my sideboard to prove it (see it there? see? poke poke).

So who are these peeps who like me? How did they find me in this huge blogosphere? Do they have any idea how good this little tag makes me feel, especially today, since I am sicksicksick and miserable and just wanna stay in bed all day?


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Executive Decision

I really hate to do this because it reduces the spontaneity of a blog (and therefore, it diminishes at least some of the fun), but I am moderating blog comments for an undetermined length of time because pimply-faced spamweasels filled my blog comments sections with advertizing for a variety of fake drugs that will enhance your physical prowess compensate for one's inadequacies -- the same ads that you can also find in your email boxes. This makes me wonder if this is the result of all those "work at home and get PAID!" ads that collect in my own spambox, er, email box? (A cruel daily reminder that even though I am an excellent speller, I can't even get a job as a paid spammer, but that's a rant best left for another day). As a result, it will take a little while for comments to show up here because I have to approve them, first. Sorry for any inconvenience this causes my legitimate readers who actually have a brain in their heads and know how to use it for something besides theft and electronic vandalism.

Incidentally, in the midst of my crankiness, I googled "spam" and found a delightful blog, Spam Poetry: poetry written using only the subject line from hundreds of spam emails! It looks like it has recently stalled, though. Hrm, I'll bet we all have a few thousand spams to donate to kick-start this worthwhile project.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist


Yesterday, I experienced an adrenaline surge of terror after opening my electricity bill from good ol' ConEd (a name that I always mistake as spelling out "Cone head" for reasons I didn't quite understand, until now).

It turns out that, despite the fact that I don't have a television, stereo, air conditioner, christmas tree, stove, toaster oven, aquarium, halogen "grow-lites", clock radio or electric heat or any other appliances with a healthy appetite for electricity (save for my microwave, laptop, cell phone, refrigerator and a couple lights), someone living in my apartment somehow managed to consume nearly $800 of electricity last month (I suspect the birds did it; they've been acting strange recently). Before this, my power bills have always been between $12-50 in NYC.

Of course, in keeping with Murphy's Laws, I opened this bill after business hours, so I have all weekend to think about it. Considering that I am unemployed yet again with no income-producing possibilities in sight, and this bill is nearly as much as I pay for renting my humble abode, it is probably easy to imagine that I am currently experiencing a sharp increase in stress hormones. I just hope I don't end up with brain damage before the weekend is over.



© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

Friday, January 06, 2006

Birds in the News #42 -- Welcome to the New Year

Horned Puffin, Fratercula corniculata,
on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs, Alaska.
Photo courtesy of Paul West © - all rights reserved.

Birds in Science

The effects of overfishing may have driven marbled murrelets, Brachyramphus marmoratus (pictured, left), an endangered seabird found along the Pacific coast of the United States, to increasingly rely upon less nutritious food sources, according to a new study by biologists at the University of California, Berkeley. The results, to be published online by early March 2006 in the peer-reviewed journal Conservation Biology, suggest that feeding further down the food web may have played a role in low levels of reproduction observed in contemporary murrelet populations, and has likely contributed to the seabirds' listing as an endangered species, the researchers said. "The dietary patterns of today's marbled murrelets might be artifacts of the profound changes that coastal marine ecosystems world-wide have undergone because of overfishing," said Steve Beissinger, professor of conservation biology in UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and principal investigator of the study. "So little is known about the diet of the murrelet that a study like this is important in informing fishery management decisions." GrrlScientist note: the effects of overfishing on seabirds has been published by three different research groups within recent months and, even though they all used different methologies, they all came to the same conclusions. Don't you find this troubling?

Every summer for three decades, ornithologist George Divoky, a 59-year-old Seattle resident who works for the University of Alaska's Institute for Arctic Biology, has migrated to Cooper Island, a pile of pebbles in the Arctic Ocean 25 miles from Barrow. The grizzled scientist arrives each June, hauling three months' worth of supplies, to record the lives of birds called black guillemots, Cepphus grylle (pictured), elegant seabirds that nest on the ground under decaying wooden ordnance boxes. Guillemots don't begin nesting until the snow melts and the ground is exposed. The first eggs are laid roughly two weeks later. But one day, Divoky noticed a strange pattern: in the mid-1990s, the first egg was being laid 10 days earlier than in 1975. Basically, the Arctic summer was arriving earlier. "It happened so slowly, it took a long time to see," Divoky said. The guillemot colony once hovered at 200 pairs. But as the sea ice moved farther offshore each year, it drew away the cod that the guillemots eat. As temperatures increased, horned puffins, Fratercula corniculata (pictured at top), which formerly stayed in the warmer Bering Sea, began moving in and killing the guillemots to take over their nests. "Now you've got a sub-Arctic species [puffins] driving out an Arctic species [guillemots] in the middle of the Arctic," Divoky observed. He suspects warming will ultimately drive off all the guillemots, leaving Cooper Island for puffins. GrrlScientist says: in addition to the drama of the study itself, this is a fascinating and well-written story that describes some of the rigors that are a normal part of many scientists' professional lives.

Birds are breaking records by living longer and travelling further, according to a report from leading ornithologists. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) said a worldwide study had added years to the known age of several species after metal bands, or rings, were fitted to their legs to help trace their movements. "Producing the ringing report is always exciting - but to break so many records in one year is tremendous. Unlike humans, birds don't spend a long time going through middle and old age. After maturing, they remain in good shape for most of the rest of their lives," said Jacquie Clark, who heads the BTO's ringing scheme. "Once they fall below par physically they tend not to last long. They might lose that essential bit of speed necessary to escape predators, face increasing difficulty completing long migrations or struggle to survive through winters." It was also noted that volunteers caught and ringed more birds in 2004 than in any other year since tagging started in Britain in 1909.

For birds, getting hauled out of a nest by a scientist and poked with a needle -- an increasingly common occurrence in this season of bird flu -- is very stressful. Some German ornithologists who study terns, gull-like seabirds, worried that such unpleasant encounters were biasing their research results. So taking a cue from nature, they put a tropical blood-sucking bug, Dipetalogaster maximus (pictured, right), on the job to do their work for them. "I had used the bugs to bleed captive bats," says Christian Voigt of the Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin. He describes the technique in the online journal, the German Journal of Ornithology (E-pub, vol. 147, 2006). Basically, to adapt the method for wild terns, he and his colleagues put insect's larvae into hollow artificial eggs with an oval opening. Netting over the hole kept the insect from escaping. After temporarily replacing the real clutch with these artificial eggs containing blood-sucking larvae, the researchers were able to collect 78 blood samples from 59 individual birds (the real eggs were then returned, unharmed). Initial analyses of the blood, which have not been published yet, further validate the research, says Voigt: "Our findings indicate that the bugged birds have indeed reduced levels of stress hormone compared to birds that were caught and bled with traditional methods." GrrlScientist note: even though I rarely had trouble getting blood from much smaller bird species than terns, I do think this is a clever way to obtain blood samples for stress hormone assays without causing a stress-induced increase in their titres.

The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC) at the American Museum of Natural History invites you to attend its eleventh annual symposium, Conserving Birds in Human-Dominated Landscapes: Weaving a Common Future, in New York City this 27 and 28 of April. This symposium focuses on diverse avian responses to broad-scale human activities in urban centers, agricultural areas, coastal communities, and working forests -- the wide array of landscapes that we call home. Within these human-dominated systems, shifts have been documented in bird abundance, distribution, behavior, life histories and, ultimately, evolutionary potential. The CBC's 2006 conference will present unique challenges to, and key opportunities for, invigorating bird diversity in the areas most heavily impacted by human activities.

Christmas Bird Count News

Will "winter finches" or northern raptors spread across North America this December? Will snow and ice blanket this continent, or will mild conditions prevail until the New Year? Will observers along the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast be able to discover the effects of this summer's hurricanes on their local birds? More than 50,000 observers in hundreds of locations throughout the United States and Canada, the Caribbean, parts of South and Central America, Bermuda, the West Indies and even a few Pacific Islands will be outside counting birds to find out. The Christmas Bird Count, also known as the CBC, now under the supervision of the National Audubon Society, began 106 years ago when ornithologist Frank Chapman and 26 fellow bird enthusiasts replaced the traditional Christmas Day bird hunt with a day of bird observation. The annual Christmas Bird Count starts on 14 December and extends through 5 January in any given year. Each official CBC location consists of a 15 mile-diameter circle. Observers start out before dawn, listening for owl calls, then drive and walk through woods, fields, wetlands and along lakes and streams from dawn to dusk, noting not only how many different species they can find, but the numbers of each species. Participants are not paid for the count. In fact, they each contribute a $5 fee to cover the cost of printing official lists, preparing other materials and publishing the results. For more information, click each link to view; this year's CBC results and last year's (105th CBC) photo gallery. You can also start off the new year by joining the National Audubon Society (always a great gift idea for that person on your list who has everything).
    Regional CBC news stories;

    Maine (USA): the Lewiston-Auburn count found 49 species on 17 December; Waterville identified 50 species on 18 December; York found 76 species on 19 December.

    Augusta, Virginia (USA): 26 people spotted 80 species on 17 December.

    Newton, Massachusetts (USA): 17 birders identified 53 species on 18 December.

    Solano County, California (USA): an as-yet unknown number of people counted a still-unknown number of species on 19 December.

    Mad Island, Matagorda County, Texas (USA): approximately 100 birders identified 249 species on 21 December. Pending verification, this will be a new single-day species record.

    Lakeland, Florida (USA): an unreported number of observers saw 134 species on 31 December. More information about all Florida State CBC data is available from the Florida Ornithological Society.

    Cayuga, New York (USA): approximately 100 observers counted an as-yet undetermined number of bird species on 1 January.

    Holland, Michigan (USA): approximately 12 observers spotted approximately 40 species on 2 January.

    Other CBC News

    The purpose of Christmas Bird Counts is to census the populations of birds wintering in the country. But the number of memorable adventures, great times and new friends may actually surpass the number of birds counted. And as birds of a feather flock together, our feathered friends have a magical way of attracting the most interesting sorts of people with their binoculars and field guides.

    Six months after Arizona's worst desert fire in history had charred 248,310 acres in the "Cave Creek Complex", volunteers will examine the damage to bird populations. "I'm predicting bird numbers will be way down," said Walter Thurber, a compiler for the National Audubon Society's annual Christmas bird count. Jim deVos, head of the research branch of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said the fire was particularly damaging to mature saguaros in this area. He predicted that pygmy-owls, Glaucidium brasilianum, Gila woodpeckers, Melanerpes uropygialis (pictured), and other birds that depend on saguaros for shelter would likely disappear in wide swaths from Bartlett Lake to New River. Troy Corman, avian biologist for Arizona Game and Fish, said the monsoon summer floods that followed the fires also played havoc with bird populations. He said certain types of wrens, song sparrows and towhees have no bushy slopes to winter in because the vegetation was ripped away by raging waters.

People Helping Birds

No one knows what birds see when they look out at the world, says ornithologist Daniel Klem, but he's sure they don't see glass. He estimates that at least 1 billion birds are killed by flying into windows every year in the United States. "It's a very common phenomenon," said Klem. "Birds are deceived. They just don't see glass as a barrier and this is a problem for them." Many birds killed by windows get eaten by cats and other scavengers, says Julie Hagelin, an ornithologist at Swarthmore College. But even when there isn't a carcass, it's possible to tell when there's been a collision. Most birds leave a distinctive smudge mark on the window. The challenge was to find a kind of glass that birds could see and people could see through. Everbach and Klem recommended using so-called "fritted" glass. It's etched with closely spaced rows of small circles. When standing right in front of it, the glass is hard to see through, but Everbach says from a slight distance, the dots don't obscure vision that much. If nothing changes, Klem says it's certain that the problem of window hits will escalate. He notes that in the next few decades, millions of new homes and offices will be built in the United States alone. More information.

Citizen scientists are being enlisted by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to help search for one of Scotland's most elusive birds, the Scottish ptarmigan, Lagopus mutus (pictured in winter plumage). This small, plump bird is typically found in pairs or small groups on the tundra across northern Europe where it relies on cold, mountainous habitats for survival. The ptarmigan is unusual among birds because it changes its plumage pattern three times per year to camouflage it against the changing scenery. The BTO believes global warming has led to a reduction in its range. "Up until now, the wide-scale monitoring of birds in upland areas, particularly the remote mountains of Scotland, has been limited by the low availability of volunteers to carry out survey work," said Jacqui Kaye, of the BTO in Scotland. The first full survey will take place between April and August 2006 and, if enough hillwalkers become involved, the BTO hopes to expand the project to include other upland species.

Except for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Archilochus colubris, the 2005 bird banding season at Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History in South Carolina wasn't very spectacular. To view the annual summary, banding totals, and wonderful close-up photos of some birds they captured, please visit the this week's installment of This Week at Hilton Pond. Along with the photo essay and the final week of 2005's banding results, they also include a miscellaneous nature note (scroll down a little on this link).

Bird Flu News

The second child who tested positive for bird flu died early Thursday at Van 100th University Medical Faculty Hospital in eastern Turkey, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported. With the death of Fatma Kocyigit, 15, the number of people who died from bird flu in Turkey increased to two, said Ahmet Faik Oner, the doctor who was treating the siblings of Kocyigit family. The Kocyigit children helped to raise poultry on a small farm in Dogubayazit town of Agri province in eastern Turkey, and were in close contact with sick birds. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday sent a team of experts to Turkey to help investigate the deaths, a senior official said. GrrlScientist note: I received word this morning that a third child in this family, an 11 year old girl, died recently (today?). It is suspected that all three children died from bird flu, although more tests are being conducted to confirm this.

U.S. chicken producers including Tyson Foods, Inc., and Pilgrim's Pride, Inc., will begin testing all their flocks to make sure they are free from hazardous forms of avian influenza (H5 and H7 viruses), after the disease decimated the industry in Asia. Samples will be taken on the farm before the birds are moved to processing plants under a program announced today by the National Chicken Council, a trade group. Tests will be conducted under procedures approved by the National Poultry Improvement Plan, an existing federal-state cooperative program, the Washington, D.C.-based chicken council said in a statement. Flocks found with the H5 or H7 form of bird flu will be humanely destroyed, the council said. The U.S., the world's largest producer and exporter of poultry, is preparing for the possibility that the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu may reach domestic flocks, threatening an industry valued at $29 billion. The virus, which has never been found in the U.S., led to the destruction of millions of birds in Asia and parts of eastern Europe and resulted in at least 74 human deaths since 2003.

In a trend federal authorities say is "scary", the Internet suddenly is awash with bogus drugs to counter a possible bird-flu pandemic, including counterfeit Tamiflu. Hundreds of fake Tamiflu pills sold to U.S. consumers by Asian online entrepreneurs have been seized in South San Francisco over the past month, most recently on Wednesday. They are the first such counterfeits detected in this country. The week before, the Food & Drug Administration sent warning letters to nine Internet marketers it accused of peddling other phony remedies. Most were dietary supplements that, among other things, claimed to kill the bird-flu virus or provide "a natural virus shield." How much fraudulent Tamiflu is being sold isn't clear. Roche officials said they are aware of only one instance of counterfeit Tamiflu showing up outside the United States. Those pills, found in Holland, contained only Vitamin C and lactose, and were improperly labeled.

Webbed Birds

There is a new birding site, The Birding Site of Malaysia for you to try out. Even though it is still under construction, it has a lot of gorgeous pictures and a bird memory game that you might enjoy. As you work your way through this site, you are invited to email your comments and suggestions to the webmaster (contact information at the bottom of their main page). Be sure to bookmark this site so you can return often.

A new website, The Wiki Guide to Birds, is currently being developed. Anyone is invited to contribute species information, images, articles, or set up a birding guide to their favorite area. This site is non-commercial and is based on the same free license and wiki software used by Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. This site consists of two main areas: regional guides to birding and individual species accounts. A regional birding guide might contain information for the area such as local hotspots, maps, recent sightings, lists of species with links to the species accounts, and just about anything else useful for birdwatching. For an example, see the guide for the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. A field guide for birds in your chosen region can be created by including the shared species information in your species accounts. Your regional species page can then add local information, such as regional distribution and places to find the species. When the general information, such as field marks or vocalizations, which is shared by all regional field guides, is updated then your species account will automatically be updated with that information. For an example see the Tamaulipas Crow, Corvus imparatus, for the Rio Grande Valley and the general Tamaulipas Crow page. An index is automatically maintained for each region by putting each page in a category. The site is very new so there is plenty of opportunity to contribute and help mold it so it will be useful to the birding community. Feel free to browse or make contributions by editing. The developer, Tim, be more than happy to help others to set up a regional guide for a state, county or other region. Questions, comments or suggestions should be emailed to Tim.

Streaming Birds

For the first week of 2006, BirdNote discusses piracy among raptors; the sounds of dawn around the world; comparing chickadee calls; birdbaths in winter; and today's story, Cuvier's Toucan, Ramphastos cuvieri, Toucan Sam - the Froot Loops bird. 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. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [mp3/podcast].

If you don't already love National Public Radio, this series of bird stories should help you rethink your affections.

Licensed wildlife rehabilitator and National Public Radio commentator, Julie Zickefoose, raised three orphaned ruby-throated hummingbirds, Archilochus colubris, a couple of years ago, never expecting to see them again. This All Things Considered episode tells the touching story of their return. [3:54, RealPlayer or Windoze Media Player required] For those who are interested to learn more about these particular birds, this is an earlier story about them. [3:55, RealPlayer or Windoze Media Player required] GrrlScientist says: sigh! These stories remind me of how much I miss all my baby birds!

We've all been in stores and seen birds fluttering around and wondered, how did they get in there? Do they live there 24-7? Licensed wildlife rehabilitator and National Public Radio commentator, Julie Zickefoose, remembers Paul, a savannah sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis, that she met in her local grocery store that became quite popular with the employees there. [3:07, RealPlayer or Windoze Media Player required]

For the past 19 years, ornithologists at Cornell University have solicited help from the general public to count birds from November until April. David Bonter, Project Feeder Watch coordinator, tells reporter Liane Hansen from National Public Radio's Weekend Edition how the program works. [2:56, RealPlayer or Windoze Media Player required]

Miscellaneous Birds

Every year, more people become involved in birdwatching. Fancy equipment, binoculars, expensive scopes, specially designed jackets, pants, hardbound guide books and covers, boots, hats and more line the shelves at the nearest nature stores. All these things are wonderful, but may seem overwhelming to the average person who just wants to learn about the birds around his or her home. These special gadgets and clothing are not necessary; in fact, all you really need is one bird feeder and one field guide to get started on this exciting hobby that will offer hours of entertainment and joy for the whole family. Additionally, there are numerous web sites featuring free and easily accessible information on birdwatching from your own easy chair. It's so easy to get started birdwatching and it's relatively inexpensive, too, so open up a new world for yourself. GrrlScientist note: this article also tells you how to get free bird magazines and how to get involved in bird related activities that you might enjoy.

If you are like me, then you enjoy hiking and birding at the same time. If so, then you will be pleased to know that the North Alabama Birding Trail is now complete. This hiking/birding trail, which stretches across north Alabama from the Mississippi to Georgia borders, passes through 12 sites around the Shoals, Alabama. "We're starting to see quite a few people coming through on the birding trail," said Debbie Wilson, director of Florence-Lauderdale Tourism. "We expect it will really pick up as awareness of the trail increases." It officially opened 30 September. Birders are important tourists: studies have shown bird watchers typically spend more than $150 each day per person for lodging, food, fuel and other purchases while visiting birding sites. Wilson said being able to attract bird watchers to the Shoals during the winter will be a boon for local motels and hotels in what is normally a slow time for travel.

Holiday Birds

A bird pal of mine sent a really cute holiday card to me and of course, this means I will share it with all of you, too!

The Fine Print: Thanks to my bird pals, Caren, Chris, Dawn, Tim, Victor, Bill, "a good blogging friend" who prefers to remain anonymous, Virasat, Ellen B. and Ron for some of the news story links that you are enjoying here and thanks to Tom Palmer, a reporter for The Ledger for taking the time to provide more information about the Florida CBCs. Thanks to Ian for catching my amusing mistakes in this issue, thereby preserving my readers' faith in my accuracy. I greatly appreciate James N. for his $upport (and his friendship). Special thanks to long-time readers, Jamie, Tony and anonymous blog reader, for surprising me by nominating Birds in the News for a 2005 Koufax Award for Best Series! There will be an announcement here, along with more details, when voting begins.

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Nominated (!!) to the Big Apple Blog Festival
Issue 19.


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