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, 29 March 2017

Endangered ibises benefit from joining egret flocks

Date: March 22, 2017
Source: American Ornithological Society Publications Office

Birds benefit from flocking together -- even when they're not of a feather. According to a new study in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, China's endangered Crested Ibises benefit from joining forces with other, more visually-oriented bird species while searching for food.

Joining mixed-species flocks can reduce birds' risk of predation while boosting their foraging opportunities, but it can also expose them to competition and disease, and little research has been done on what this means for birds such as ibises that rely on their sense of touch to find food. Yuanxing Ye and Changqing Ding of the Beijing Forestry University and their colleagues studied the behavior of Crested Ibises foraging with and without Little Egrets in central China's Shaanxi Province, recording the birds' behavior with a digital video camera to determine whether they picked up on social cues from the other species. They found that ibises in mixed-species flocks became alert to threats sooner, suggesting they felt less at risk when mingling with the more visually-oriented egrets.


For the birds: New prediction method sheds brighter light on flight

Date: March 27, 2017
Source: Office of Naval Research

Resembling a feathered flying ace with his miniature protective goggles and chinstrap, the parrotlet named Obie stood ready to take off. On signal, Obie propelled into the air, flapped through a laser field infused with microparticles and landed on another perch three feet away.

The journey only lasted three seconds, but it challenged the accuracy of three aerodynamics models long used to predict animal flight. It also might impact future designs of bio-inspired drones, robots and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a topic of interest to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), researchers at Stanford University found a new way to precisely measure the vortices -- circular patterns of rotating air -- created by birds' wings during flight. The results shed greater light on how these creatures produce enough lift to fly.


Monday, 27 March 2017

Scientists make new discovery about bird evolution

March 24, 2017

In a new paper published in National Science Review, a team of scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature, and the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology (all in China) described the most exceptionally preserved fossil bird discovered to date.

The new specimen from the rich Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota (approximately 131 to 120 million years old) is referred to as Eoconfuciusornis, the oldest and most primitive member of the Confuciusornithiformes, a group of early birds characterized by the first occurrence of an avian beak. Its younger relative Confuciusornis is known from thousands of specimens but this is only the second specimen of Eoconfuciusornis found. This species comes only from the 130.7 Ma Huajiying Formation deposits in Hebei, which preserves the second oldest known fossil birds. Birds from this layer are very rare.

This new specimen of Eoconfuciusornis, housed in the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature, in Eastern China, is a female. The ovary reveals developing yolks that vary in size, similar to living birds. This suggests that confuciusornithiforms evolved a period of rapid yolk deposition prior to egg-laying (crocodilians, which are archosaurs like birds, deposit yolks slowly in all eggs for months with no period of rapid yolk formation), which is indicative of complex energetic profiles similar to those observed in birds.

This means Eoconfuciusornis and its kin, like living birds, was able to cope with extremely high metabolic demands during early growth and reproduction (whereas energetic demands in crocodiles are even, lacking complexity). In contrast, other Cretaceous birds including the more advanced group the Enantiornithes appear to have lower metabolic rates and have required less energy similar to crocodilians and non-avian dinosaurs (their developing yolks show little size disparity indicating no strong peak in energy associated with reproduction, and much simpler energetic profiles, limited by simpler physiologies).

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Council bill for ridding the streets of pigeons and gulls doubles to £1million in just three years

Biggest bird control spender was Southwark, spending £393,000 since 2013
Amount spent by councils rose from £452,000 in 2014 to £830,000 last year
Bird control methods include pigeon-proofing buildings to using marksmen
Spending also covered clearing up pigeon guano and removing dead ones 

Published: 00:05, 18 February 2017 | Updated: 00:29, 18 February 2017

Council spending on ridding the streets of pigeons and gulls has doubled to almost £1million over the past three years.

The biggest spender on bird control was the London Borough of Southwark, which has shelled out £393,000 since 2013.

The amount spent by English councils on bird control surged from £452,000 in 2014 to £830,000 last year, statistics obtained through Freedom of Information requests show.
The bird control methods used ranged from pigeon-proofing buildings to employing marksmen or hawks to kill the pests. The spending also covered clearing up pigeon guano and removing dead ones.

The British Pest Control Association suggested the increase could be due to the growing awareness of public health risks associated with the birds.

But they added that some methods, such as pigeon-proofing, simply moved problems on to another building or area.

The figures come two years after then Prime Minister David Cameron called for a 'big conversation' about seagulls following attacks on a dog and a tortoise in Cornwall.

British military base on Cyprus - a safe haven for wildlife criminals

Over 800,000 songbirds, such as blackcaps and robins, are estimated to have been illegally killed on a British military base in Cyprus last autumn, where illegal trapping activity remains around its highest ever levels, according to a new report.

New research by the RSPB and BirdLife Cyprus shows that the number of nets used to trap birds remains around record levels on British Territory, with an increase of 183% since the illegal-killing monitoring programme began in 2002. 

The songbirds are illegally trapped and killed to provide restaurants with the main ingredient for the local and expensive delicacy of ambelopoulia- a plate of cooked songbirds. Organised crime gangs are driving this illegal activity on a huge scale and it is estimated they earn millions of Euros every year from the songbirds they kill on British territory. 

Between August and October 2016 the small British Sovereign Base Area (SBA) police force, supported by specialist surveillance help from RSPB Investigations staff, opened more cases and confiscated more mist nets - long lines of near invisible netting - than ever previously recorded. However, the SBA Administration were largely forced to abandon their most successful tool against this criminal activity- removal of the invasive Australian acacia trees which trappers have planted on MoD land in order to lure the birds in- due to the trappers organising large protests and a dramatic blockade. Whereas the Base authorities had successfully removed 54 acres of acacia in the preceding two years, this autumn they were only able to remove a further 7 acres, leaving around 90 acres of this illegal-killing infrastructure still standing on the British firing range. 

Trappers also blatantly and extensively deploy electronic calling devices on the firing range at night in order to lure in birds to their deaths and there are concerns that parts of the British firing range are effectively becoming a no-go area for the committed but significantly outnumbered local police force. 

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “This report sadly highlights that the British base is the number one bird killing hotspot on the whole island of Cyprus. “Many much loved garden bird species are being trapped and killed for huge profit by criminal gangs. The trappers’ brazen prevention of the removal of their criminal infrastructure from MoD land could never be tolerated here in the UK. The UK Government must therefore provide enforcement support to help the Base authorities respond to the trappers and safely remove the remaining 90 acres of acacia so that they cannot be used to kill hundreds of thousands more birds.” 

The report estimates that over 1.7 million birds could have been killed within the survey area, which covers both the British base and Cyprus Republic areas, and nearly 2.3 million across the whole of Cyprus due to this extensive bird trapping activity. This industrial scale activity has also been confirmed in a scientific paper, published last year, where Cyprus was identified as one of the worst places for illegal bird killing in the Mediterranean. 

Heritage Lottery Fund award to help save Puffins

An RSPB Scotland project to aid conservation efforts for puffins has been awarded £49,800 by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Puffins are one our most recognisable and much loved seabirds with their colourful bills and eye markings. However, in recent years their numbers across the UK and Europe have plummeted leading to the species being declared vulnerable to global extinction, with further declines of between 50-79 percent estimated by 2065 (1). Warming seas, caused by climate change, affecting puffins’ food sources are thought to be one of the main threats to their numbers. 

Now thanks to this HLF grant an innovative project to help these threatened seabirds will take place this year. Project Puffin (UK) combines the latest technology with citizen science to tackle three of the biggest challenges hampering conservation efforts for these charismatic birds; discovering more about what puffins feed their chicks, where they go to find food and how their numbers are changing. 

As over 80 percent of the British and Irish population of puffins is found in Scotland much of the project’s work will focus here. Counts will take place at a number of puffin colonies, many of which have seen an alarming reduction in size. The counts are urgently required to accurately measure the extent of this decline and assess how puffins are currently faring. 

GPS trackers will be carefully fitted to puffins at two sites in Scotland. During the summer these 31 tags will provide information on where parent puffins go to fish to feed their chick. This will then be combined to generate maps of their offshore feeding areas during the tracking, and also detail what conditions they need to feed. 

Further information on the diet of puffins will be gathered through the citizen science aspect of the project taking place while puffins are feeding their chicks during June and July. Visitors to puffin colonies across the UK and Ireland are asked to take photographs of the birds with fish in their bills. The project will provide clear guidelines for this to ensure puffins, which are very sensitive to human presence around their burrows, and other wildlife are not disturbed, and so that the photographs provide the most useful data possible. An online portal will be set up to submit the photographs to; these will build a picture of what the chicks are being fed.