As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Why do birds migrate at night?

Date: September 12, 2019
Source: Southern Methodist University

It was a puzzle about birds.

Migratory birds are known to rely on Earth's magnetic field to help them navigate the globe. And it was suspected that a protein called cryptochrome, which is sensitive to blue light, was making it possible for birds to do this.

Yet many of these animals are also known to migrate at night when there isn't much light available. So it wasn't clear how cryptochrome would function under these conditions in birds.

A new study led by UT Southwestern Medical Center in collaboration with SMU (Southern Methodist University), though, may have figured out the answer to that puzzle.

Researchers found that cryptochromes from migratory birds have evolved a mechanism that enhances their ability to respond to light, which can enable them to sense and respond to magnetic fields.

"We were able to show that the protein cryptochrome is extremely efficient at collecting and responding to low levels of light," said SMU chemist Brian D. Zoltowski, who was one of the lead authors of a new study on the findings. "The result of this research is that we now understand how vertebrate cryptochromes can respond to very low light intensities and function under night time conditions."

The study was published in the journal PNAS in September.

Cryptochromes are found in both plants and animals and are responsible for circadian rhythms in various species. In birds, scientists were specifically focused on learning more about an unusual eye protein called CRY4, which is part of a class of cryptochromes.

The lab of Joseph Takahashi, a circadian rhythms expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center, worked with other UT Southwestern scientists to purify and solve the crystal structure of the protein -- the first atomic structure of a photoactive cryptochrome molecule from a vertebrate. The lab of Brian Zoltowski, an expert in blue-light photoreceptors, studied the efficiency of the light-driven reactions -- identifying a pathway unique to CRY4 proteins that facilitates function under low light conditions.

Coastal birds can weather the storm, but not the sea

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019


How can birds that weigh less than a AA battery survive the immense power of Atlantic hurricanes? A new study in Ecology Letters finds that these coastal birds survive because their populations can absorb impacts and recover quickly from hurricanes—even storms many times larger than anything previously observed.

"Coastal birds are often held up as symbols of vulnerability to hurricanes and oil spills, but many populations can be quite resilient to big disturbances," explains lead author Dr. Christopher Field, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland's National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). "The impacts of hurricanes, in terms of populations rather than individual birds, tend to be surprisingly small compared to the other threats that are causing these species to decline."

Field and colleagues from five other universities studied the resilience of four species of coastal birds, including the endangered Saltmarsh Sparrow. The researchers developed simulations that allowed them to explore how disturbances like hurricanes would affect the birds' populations over time. They started with models that project population sizes into the future based on the species' birth and death rates. The research team then subjected these populations to simulated hurricanes that killed a certain number of birds. Because they were using computational simulations, the researchers were able to look at the full range of potential hurricane sizes—from storms that caused no bird deaths to storms that were more severe than anything ever observed.

Tiny penguin's clean bill of health after epic NZ-Australia swim

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019


The bird was so underweight it had to be gradually reintroduced to food and the water

A tiny penguin that made the mammoth journey from New Zealand to Australia has been nursed back to health and released into the wild—in the hope it will find its own way home.

The emaciated Fiordland penguin was found struggling on rocks near Lorne, south of Melbourne, about 2,500km (1,500 miles) from its native habitat of New Zealand.

Melbourne Zoo head of veterinary services Michael Lynch said the bird was so underweight it had to be gradually reintroduced to food and the water over several weeks.

"Over time it began to put on weight again," he said.

"We then started to reintroduce it to water when it was strong enough to swim to help build up some muscle."

Fiordland penguins are known to swim large distances to forage for food, sometimes even spending so long in the ocean that they grow barnacles on their tails.

They are classified as a threatened species, with an estimated 5,000 left in the wild.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Injured seagull photographed with arrow embedded in head in Elgin

A seagull has been photographed with an arrow embedded in its head in Elgin.

The injured bird is said to still be flying around, after it was spotted at the Moray town's Cooper Park on Tuesday.

It was photographed by Lesley Morrison, who told the BBC Scotland news website: "It was normal looking, until it turned around. Then it flew off."

The Scottish SPCA said the incident was "very concerning", and warned it was a criminal offence.

Keen nature photographer Mrs Morrison said: "I have always got the camera just in case.

"It was there for ages walking about, pecking away. Then I saw this sold-looking arrow - it was well-embedded.

"It seemed perfect if it did not have this in its head. It must have missed the important organs."
'Protected by law'

Scottish SPCA animal rescue officer Aimee Findlay, appealing for information about the incident, said: "We have received a report of a gull with an arrow through its head in Elgin. The gull is still able to fly so we haven't been able to contain it.

"We are very concerned for its wellbeing and are keen to treat it as soon as possible to prevent infection and further injury and suffering.

"In July, we investigated a report of a gull with an arrow through its body in Ross-shire.

"This is very concerning. We want to make it clear that gulls, like all birds, are protected by law and it is a criminal offence to deliberately injure or kill a gull."

Global warming makes it harder for birds to mate, study finds


SEPTEMBER 17, 2019


New research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University of Porto (CIBIO-InBIO) shows how global warming could reduce the mating activity and success of grassland birds.

The study examined the threatened grassland bird Tetrax tetrax, or little bustard, classified as a vulnerable species in Europe, in order to test how rising temperatures could affect future behavior.

The males spend most of their time in April and May trying to attract females in a breeding gathering known as a lek. In leks, to get noticed, males stand upright, puff up their necks, and making a call that sounds like a 'snort." They also use this display to defend their territory from competing breeding males.

The international team of researchers—from the UK, Kenya, Portugal, Spain and Brazil—found that high temperatures reduced this snort-call display behavior. If temperatures become too hot, birds may have to choose between mating and sheltering or resting to save their energy and protect themselves from the heat.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the findings show that during the mating season little bustard display behavior is significantly related to temperature, the time of the day—something referred to as circadian rhythms—and what stage of the mating season it is. The average temperature during the day also affects how much birds display and again as temperatures increase, display rates reduce.

March of the multiple penguin genomes

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

by GigaScience

The Penguin Genome Consortium sequences all living penguin species genomes to understand the evolution of life on the ice

Published today in the open-access journal GigaScience is an article that presents the first effort to capture the entirety of the genomic landscape of all living penguin species. The Penguin Genome Consortium —bringing together researchers from China, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, the UK, the US, France and Germany— has produced 19 high-coverage penguin genome sequences that, together with two previously published genomes, encompass all surviving penguin species. This extensive study provides an unparalleled amount of information that covers an entire biological order, which will promote research in a wide variety of areas from evolution to the impact of human activities and environmental changes.

Penguins are a diverse order of species that span the Southern hemisphere, ranging from the Galápagos Islands on the equator, to the oceanic temperate forests of New Zealand, to the rocky coastlines of the sub-Antarctic islands, finally reaching the sea-ice around Antarctica. This iconic bird group have transitioned from flying seabirds to powerful, flightless marine divers. With their specialized skin and feathers and an enhanced thermoregulation system they are able to inhabit environments from the extreme cold Antarctic sea ice to the tropical Galápagos Islands.

Scientists discover one of world's oldest bird species at Waipara, New Zealand

SEPTEMBER 17, 2019


The ancestor of some of the largest flying birds ever has been found in Waipara, North Canterbury.

Bony-toothed birds (Pelagornithids), an ancient family of huge seafaring birds, were thought to have evolved in the Northern Hemisphere—but that theory has been upended by the discovery of the family's oldest, but smallest member in New Zealand.

At 62 million-years-old, the newly-discovered Protodontopteryx ruthae, is one of the oldest named bird species in the world. It lived in New Zealand soon after the dinosaurs died out.

While its descendants were some of the biggest flying birds ever, with wingspans of more than 5 meters, Protodontopteryx ruthae was only the size of an average gull. Like other members of its family, the seabird had bony, tooth-like projections on the edge of its beak.

The seabird fossil was identified by the same team that recently announced the discovery of a 1.6 meter-high giant penguin from the same site.

Amateur paleontologist Leigh Love found the partial Protodontopteryx skeleton last year at the Waipara Greensand fossil site. The bird was named Protodontopteryx ruthae after Love's wife Ruth. Love wanted to thank her for tolerating his decades-long passion for paleontology.