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.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Scientists track the brain-skull transition from dinosaurs to birds

Date:  September 11, 2017
Source:  Yale University

The dramatic, dinosaur-to-bird transition that occurred in reptiles millions of years ago was accompanied by profound changes in the skull roof of those animals -- and holds important clues about the way the skull forms in response to changes in the brain -- according to a new study. It is the first time scientists have tracked the link between the brain's development and the roofing bones of the skull.

Nurse snaps “first known picture” of white jackdaw in Scotland

September 13, 2017

A NURSE out for a stroll has captured what may be the first known picture of a white jackdaw north of the border.

The bird, part of the crow family, is normally black or dark grey but Sheona Murray’s stunning snap shows a gleaming white jackdaw.

Only 10 white jackdaws have been spotted in the UK since the year 2000, according to experts.

Photo: Sheona Murray
The bird, part of the crow family, is normally black or dark grey but Sheona Murray’s stunning snap shows a gleaming white jackdaw.

Sheona’s remarkable bird is thought to be the first actually photographed in Scotland and is almost certainly the northernmost sighting.

The jackdaw, gleaming white apart from a smudge of grey on its tail, was snapped earlier this week in Sheona’s home village of Rogart, Sutherland, about 70 miles south of John O’Groats.

Sheona, who is also a keen wildlife photographer, caught an inquisitive, black cow in the background, further enhancing the remarkable appearance of the jackdaw.

Birds of its kind tend to be especially rare because they are often attacked and killed by “normal” members of their own species.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Will mallards hybridize their cousins out of existence?

September 6, 2017

Mallards—the familiar green-headed ducks of city parks—are one of a group of closely related waterfowl species, many of which are far less common. Interbreeding with Mallards can threaten the genetic distinctiveness of those other species and cause concern for their conservation. A new study from The Condor: Ornithological Applications investigates hybridization between Mallards and Mottled Ducks, a species specially adapted for life in Gulf Coast marshes, and finds that while hybridization rates are currently low, human activity could cause them to rise in the future.

In Florida, hybridization between domesticated Mallards and Mottled Ducks is a cause for concern, but the degree of hybridization in the western Gulf Coast region is less well known. Louisiana State University's Robert Ford and his colleagues took blood samples from Mottled Ducks captured on the coast of Louisiana in 2011-2014, supplementing them with samples from Mottled Ducks and Mallards from Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Analyzing the birds' DNA, they found that the hybridization rate in the western Gulf Coast region is currently only 5-8%, a level lower than what's been documented in Florida. However, that doesn't mean the western Gulf population is completely in the clear.

Currently, the two species have little opportunity to interact in the region during the breeding season; Mottled Ducks nest in coastal marshes, while most Mallards are migratory and breed outside the region. However, the ongoing loss of marsh habitat could cause Mottled Ducks to move into urban and suburban areas, where they will be more likely to encounter resident Mallards. To prevent future problems, Ford and his colleagues recommend ongoing monitoring of hybridization in the region and better protection of coastal marsh habitat.

Wild Ideas: A mysterious bird calls in the night

For years I’ve heard this strange, haunting animal sound at night in the forest surrounding my house. I was pretty sure it was a bird, but tracking down the species from its sound is much harder than flipping through the illustrations in a field guide. After listening to this sound more carefully all summer, I finally decided to take a shot at solving the mystery.

I thought about what birds are busy at night hunting for food, mating or both. The knocking and hollow, loud “kowp” sound I was hearing didn’t belong to any of our native owls. Nor did it sound like a member of the goatsucker family, which includes whip-poor-wills and nighthawks. So what was left?

When I don’t know where to start with identifying a bird, I often do what I did in this occasion — open one of my bird apps and scroll through the taxonomic orders, hoping a species name will click. In this case, I started with my Sibley Birds app. As I scrolled through the orders, I came to Cuculiformes, the cuckoos, roadrunners and anis.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Clever cockatoos bend hooks into straight wire to fish for food

September 5, 2017

In the early 2000s the New Caledonian crow Betty in Oxford shocked the world when she spontaneously bent a hook into a straight piece of wire while trying to retrieve a small out-off-reach basket with a handle from a vertical tube. Interestingly, when human children were tested on a similar task setup they showed great difficulties with coming up with a suitable solution until the age of nearly eight years. New Caledonian crows are specialized tools users in the wild and their ability to handle tools is innate. Nevertheless, in this case Betty seemed to innovatively produce a novel behavioural sequence on an unknown material.

At the time, studying cognition in birds was still a young area of research and thus her hook bending abilities became a textbook example of intelligent tool manufacture in animals. By now brain and behavioural research has shown that some birds such as corvids and parrots seem to possess complex cognition at similar levels as higher primates and show similar neuron counts in the respective brain regions. Nevertheless, the studies on Betty the crow recently came under scrutiny when field researchers from the University of St Andrews found that wild New Caledonian crows used strikingly similar bending techniques to add curvature to the tool shafts of twig tools in the wild. They therefore suggested that Betty's solution was hardly innovative but could be strongly influenced by predispositions from habitual tool use and nest building.

Researchers from the University of Vienna and the Veterinary University Vienna now tested another bird species the Goffin's cockatoo on the same task setup.

Birds choose mates with ornamental traits

September 4, 2017

A recurring theme in nature documentaries is that of choosy females selecting brightly colored males. A new study shows that, in monogamous mating systems, male birds may select their lifelong mates in much the same way.

Some traits, such as the tuft of feathers atop a crested auklet, signal attractiveness to the other sex and competitive rank within the same sex. Research has traditionally focused on male competition for access to females or territory and on females choosing males based on their feathers and fights. But recent investigations suggest that females not only compete with each other, but also rely on such traits in deciding whether to engage or defer. Accordingly, "the idea has been floated that these traits could then become preferred by males," says Omidyar Fellow Caitlin Stern, "because they indicate that a female is successful in competing for resources."

To find out, Stern created population genetic models involving females with or without a given trait and males with or without a preference for it. "It has historically been a challenge to understand how mating preferences for ornamental traits can evolve when every individual succeeds in getting a mate," Stern explains, in part because the seemingly simple selection process of monogamous pairs, where mates couple up and remove themselves from the broader gene-swapping pool for good, is tricky to handle mathematically. Nevertheless, over thousands of generations, both the female trait and male preference persisted in the population, suggesting that both are favored.

Friday, 15 September 2017

66 Million Years Ago, Bird-Like Dinosaurs Laid Blue-Green Eggs

By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | August 31, 2017 04:54pm ET

A type of bird-like dinosaur that lived in what is now China during the Cretaceous period — about 145.5 million to 65.5 million years ago — laid eggs that had a bluish-green tint, the first evidence of pigment in dinosaur eggs, according to a new study.

The well-preserved eggshells belonged to the oviraptorid Heyuannia huangi, and analysis revealed the hints of blue-green color, the researchers said. Oviraptorids were a small-bodied, short-snouted group of dinosaurs with toothless beaks, and are known from fossils found in Mongolia and China.

Blue and green egg hues are found in eggs belonging to many types of modern birds, and were long thought to have originated in bird lineages. This new finding, however, implies that egg coloration appeared earlier in the dinosaur family tree, and might have emerged alongside nesting behavior that left eggs partially exposed in nest mounds, rather than buried underground, the scientists wrote in the new study.