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, 17 January 2019

For these birds, climate change spells a rise in fatal conflicts

January 10, 2019, Cell Press
Researchers have found yet another way in which climate change has been detrimental to migrating birds. As European winters have become warmer, pied flycatchers traveling from Africa over long distances to reach breeding grounds in the Netherlands are arriving to find that resident great tits have already claimed nesting sites for the season. As a result, the number of flycatchers killed in great tit nests has risen dramatically. The work appears January 10 in the journal Current Biology.
"When pied flycatchers and great tits are more synchronous in their timing, this leads to a higher level of conflict over nesting sites," says Jelmer Samplonius, who did the work at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and is now at the University of Edinburgh, UK.
Samplonius's team got interested in the dynamics between pied flycatchers and great tits in part because both species rely on a short burst of food resources—caterpillars—to raise their young. When the birds' timing is well matched with the caterpillar peak, they are more successful in raising their offspring.
Given the reliance on the same food and nesting resources, it was clear the two species interacted quite a bit. Pied flycatchers were known for trying to take over great tit nests. They also eavesdropped on resident great tits to gain information the long-distance migrants otherwise lack about local conditions.
After years of careful monitoring, Samplonius says, "it was hard not to notice" that many flycatchers were dying in great tit nests. In other years, "virtually none" met that same fate. Could synchrony between the two competitor species explain the variation?

On a wing and a player: hopes webcam can save endangered albatross

Footage of tiny colony of birds on the southern tip of New Zealand captivates millions around the globe
Sat 12 Jan 2019 01.00 GMTLast modified on Mon 14 Jan 2019 03.25 GMT
Millions of amateur naturalists around the world have been tuning in to the secret lives of albatrosses as New Zealand rangers employ YouTube in a bid to save the mysterious giant sea birds.
New Zealand conservation teams set up a 24-hour live-stream of an albatross nest at Taiaroa Head on the Otago peninsula in 2016. Three years on, the feed has become an unexpected global hit, with 2.3 million people from 190 countries tuning in to watch the endangered birds rear their chicks on a frigid peninsula at the bottom of the world.
 “Someone somewhere in the world is watching 24 hours a day,” says department of conservation (DoC) ranger Jim Watts.
“People watch it in hospitals, in nursing homes. There’s a real intimacy to watching the chicks grow – people fall in love and become invested.”
The northern royal albatross – or toroa in the Maori language te reo – is endemic to New Zealand and is under threat from climate change, fly-strike disease and heat stress. The birds have been described as “casualties on the frontline” of the war against plastic, as they mainly feed by swooping down on squid in the ocean – and often mistake brightly coloured plastic for prey.
The estimated total population of northern royal albatross is 17,000, and with intensive intervention the Taiaroa Head population has doubled since 1990. But that protected colony represents only 1% of the total population, and their small New Zealand home has become “crucial” to conservation efforts as they are the only managed and quantifiable settlement of the rare and endangered birds in the world.
The other 99% of toroa live on remote sub-antarctic Chatham Islands and have never been accurately counted or managed, though survey drone flights are planned in the near future.
Watts says the 24/7 coverage from the camera has provided valuable insights into the lives of the elusive birds, and has the capacity to ensure more vulnerable chicks reach adulthood.

Australia's first tufted duck sighting creates a 'mega-twitch' at sewage pond

Bird-watchers flock to Werribee treatment plant, near Melbourne, to see Eurasia native
Tue 15 Jan 2019 06.46 GMTLast modified on Tue 15 Jan 2019 06.48 GMT
The Werribee sewage ponds are one of the most popular bird-watching locations in Australia. On a good day, says Birdlife Australia’s Sean Dooley, you may see as many as five or six other cars there.
That was before the tufted duck arrived.
 “I counted when I left, there were 35 cars of birders,” Dooley said, adding: “It was a mega-twitch.”
“It’s the biggest twitching event I have witnessed first-hand in Australia — it felt like I was in England,” he said.
The cause of all this fuss is a rather unassuming-looking black duck with white flanks and bright yellow eyes. It was spotted and identified by some visiting American twichers on 2 January as a male tufted duck, Aythya fuligula, a species of diving duck native to northern Eurasia but not uncommonly found in coastal areas in North America.
It is the first time the species has been sighted in Australia.
The visiting twitchers alerted the locals, who shared the find on social media.

Flock party for rare bird

January 14, 2019 by Louis Sahagun
Hundreds of hard-core birders from across the nation have been flocking to South Los Angeles this week, hoping to catch a glimpse of a rare avian that wandered in from Siberia and inexplicably chose to hunker down within a hedge just south of the 10 Freeway.
The foreign visitor—or "vagrant," as bird-watchers say—became an instant celebrity five days ago, when a sharp-eyed librarian in Jefferson Park identified it as a red-flanked bluetail.
Ever since then, fans toting binoculars have crowded onto the grounds of UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library to marvel at the so-called megatick—a species so rare that most birders may never get the opportunity to "tick" it off their life's list of hoped-for sightings in the U.S.
Friday morning, scores of bird-lovers streamed through the library's gates and began a frenzied search for the avian superstar.
It didn't take long for Jeff Bray, 40, of Irvine to spot the treasure he was hunting for: a brownish ball of feathers roughly the size of a computer mouse who sported a white eye ring, orange sides and a bright blue tail.
"I saw it for a few seconds," Bray said with a smile. "It looked like a bird hopping around in the bushes. Very cool."
This is the first recorded instance of a red-flanked bluetail on California's mainland, said Kimball Garrett, manager of the ornithology collection at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It is believed to be the bird's eighth documented visit to the North American continent.
The bluetail's native habitat ranges from coniferous forests in northern Asia, west through Russia to Finland. It typically winters in southeast Asia.
No other extremely rare bird, some say, has made this much commotion since an odd duck known as a Baikal teal blew into the Rocky Mountain village of Kittredge, Colo., in 1993 and planted itself outside the picture window of Bear Creek Tavern.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Intelligent males may make female birds swoon: study

January 10, 2019 by Ivan Couronne
 A report that shows that female birds prefer smarter males aligns with one of Charles Darwin's old theories, which held that mate choice could contribute to the evolution of intelligence
Male birds are often the ones with the most vibrant feathers, or the most elaborate songs, but researchers said Thursday that what female birds could really appreciate is a male who shows his intelligence.
The report in the journal Science aligns with one of Charles Darwin's old theories, which held that mate choice could contribute to the evolution of intelligence.
"Our study demonstrates that direct observation of cognitive skills can affect mate preference," said the study, authored by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and at Leiden University in The Netherlands.
Researchers used 34 small Australian parrots, known as budgerigars, to test the notion that a suitor's smarts could outweigh style or songs.
A female bird was exposed to two similar looking males, in a cage in which she could only interact with one at a time. Prior study designs like this have shown that females tend to lean toward males with slightly nicer appearances, or more appealing songs.
Researchers could tell which male was preferred by the amount of time the female spent interacting with him.
Then, they swept away the lesser male to engage him in a special training session in opening a container filled with seeds.
The female—and her preferred male—received no such training, and were given open boxes of seed to eat from freely.

New Caledonian crows found able to infer weight of an object by watching how it behaves in the wind

January 9, 2019 by Bob Yirka, report
A team of researchers with members affiliated with the University of Auckland, the University of Cambridge, Bertha von Suttner University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has found evidence that suggests New Caledonian crows can infer the weight of an object by watching how it behaves in the wind. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the group describes experiments they carried out with crows they captured and what they found.
Humans can easily gauge the weight of objects by their behavior under windy conditions. In breezy conditions, a napkin will fly off a table at an outdoor café, for example, but a fork generally will not. We prepare for this eventuality by placing something heavy on the napkin, but not on the fork. But until now, no other creature has been found to have this ability.
To find out if New Caledonian crows might have this ability, the researchers went out into the wild and captured 12 specimens and brought them back to their lab. All of the birds were taught to use the weight of an object as the criteria needed in order to receive a food reward. Half were taught that the lighter of two objects was needed, while the other half were taught that it was the heavier object that was needed to get their reward.

‘Rare’ crested myna released by Tainan Wild Bird Society

By Tsai Wen-chu and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer
A crested myna endemic to Taiwan was released to the wild on Saturday after being treated for injuries by the Tainan Wild Bird Society.
Society director-general Lin Tai-jung (林岱瑢) said the bird was a rare sight.
People who find injured birds of this type should consult the group’s Facebook page to learn how to handle the situation, Lin said.
Society chairperson Pan Chih-yuan (潘致遠) said that the endemic crested myna species was at risk due to the introduction of foreign crested mynas.
The native bird is listed as a conserved species and is rarely seen in the wild, Pan said, adding that they comprised no more than 4 percent of all crested mynas in the wild.
Pan said he had seen the endemic species in Tainan only twice in the past few years.
Suitable habitats in suburban areas are few and far between, he said.