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.

Monday, 31 December 2012

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all .....


and may the birds of this world continue to sing you their sweet songs.





The Dalliance of Eagles

by Walt Whitman

Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,
Till o'er the river pois'd, the twain yet one, a moment's lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing.



Sunday, 30 December 2012

Berkeley Law Students Charged In Vegas Bird Decapitation


Felony charges in casino bird's beheading

What happens in Vegas can end up in a courtroom.

Two University of California Berkeley law school students were charged with crimes -- one with felonies -- in Las Vegas for allegedly beheading an exotic bird, according to reports.

Prosecutors say Justin Teixeira, 24, and Eric Cuellar, 24, stole a 14-year old helmeted guineafowl from a cage at the Flamingo resort and casino on Oct. 12. The pair were seen on surveillance video chasing the bird into some trees, and then emerging a short time later with the bird's body and its severed head, the Associated Press reported.

Teixeira's charges include felony killing and felony torturing of an animal, while Cuellar's charge is a misdemeanor. Teixeira could face prison time if convicted, while Cuellar's maximum sentence is six months in jail, the news agency reported.

If convicted, the men's futures as attorneys may be at risk. The State Bar of California requires lawyers to "demonstrate good moral character."



Environmentalists, Bird-Watchers Outraged After Valley Wildlife Refuge Nearly Leveled


Eventually meant to improve a Van Nuys wildlife reserve, a federal plan first nearly leveled it

Some members of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society were so sickened by what they saw that they had to leave.

Bird-watcher Kris Ohlenkamp chokes up just thinking about what happened to the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve in Van Nuys.

He made himself enter the property after learning it had been, to his mind, turned into a wasteland.

"I had a responsibility to go on," Ohlenkamp said.

More than 50 acres of habitat that harbored migratory birds – and bird-lovers – were practically leveled this month as part of a federal plan meant to eventually restore the area.
But the way the aggressive way the plan was carried out came as a surprise to local environmentalists and bird-lovers who frequent the area within the city of Los Angeles' Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area.

The city's parks department boasts that the site is a "haven of rest for wildlife and humans alike, a welcome oasis in an urban setting."

Ohlenkamp called it "a premier birding site in Southern California."

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Miracle owl survives head-on collision with pickup truck


A miracle owl lived to fly another day after surviving a head-on collision with a moving Ford pickup.

The brown feathered bird was left with its head lodged firmly in the grill of the truck following the accidental smash in Addison County, Vermont, on December 11.

‘I received a call from the driver a little after five in the morning explaining that he had hit an owl,’ explained biologist David Sausville, of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

‘He said that the owl was still alive and was lodged in his truck.’

The man slowly drove the bird eight miles to where he worked before calling for help.

After Mr Sausville arrived at the scene, the pair worked together to free the tangled up owl who was hit as it swooped down on some prey.

Using a pair of thick welding gloves, the animal expert held the owl by its talons while the driver worked to remove its head from the grill.







Annual bird count gives scientists climate change clues


Rich Kostecke, a bird expert and associate director of conservation, research and planning at the Nature Conservancy in Texas, looks through his spotting scope Monday during an annual 24-hour Christmastime ritual to count birds along the Texas Gulf Coast in Mad Island, Texas.

MAD ISLAND, Texas — Armed with flashlights, recordings of bird calls, a small notebook and a stash of candy bars, scientist Rich Kostecke embarked on an annual 24-hour Christmastime count of birds along the Texas Gulf Coast. Yellow rail. Barn owl. Bittern. Crested Cara-Cara. Kostecke rattled off the names and scribbled them in his notebook.

His data, along with that from more than 50 other volunteers spread out into six groups across the 7,000-acre Mad Island preserve, will be analyzed regionally and then added to a database with the results of more than 2,200 other bird counts going on from mid-December to Jan. 5 across the Western Hemisphere.

The count began in 1900 as a National Audubon Society protest of holiday hunts that left piles of bird and animal carcasses littered across the country. It now helps scientists understand how birds react to short-term weather events and may provide clues as to how they will adapt as temperatures rise and climate changes.

“Learning the changes of habit in drought could help us know what will happen as it gets warmer and drier,” said Kostecke, a bird expert and associate director of conservation, research and planning at the Nature Conservancy in Texas.

Continued:  http://www.trivalleycentral.com/casa_grande_dispatch/national_news/annual-bird-count-gives-scientists-climate-change-clues/article_bc4024de-4de7-11e2-a61c-0019bb2963f4.html

Friday, 28 December 2012

Robins on the rise this Christmas, according to RSPB


Tim Webb from the RSPB says the numbers of robins in towns and cities has increased dramatically due to an abundance of food.

State, county seek assistance with bird-nesting program


By Joe MahoneyThe Daily Star
Property owners in northern Otsego County and migratory birds alike could benefit from a grassland protection program being promoted by state officials and the Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation is willing to pay landowners in some areas of New York for maintaining grasslands in areas that are known nesting spots for certain species of endangered or protected migratory birds, said Scott Fickbohm, manager of the local Soil and Conservation District.

“Due to changing land-use patterns, natural vegetative succession, and development, grasslands are fragmenting and disappearing,” DEC officials said in announcing the program.
To be eligible for the state funding, tracts must have grassland parcels that are at least 25 acres. Officials said research has shown grassland birds need large, uninterrupted habitat patches to thrive. Parcels over 30 acres in size will receive priority points in DEC’s project evaluation and scoring process.

Grant amounts, officials said, hinge on the acreage of habitat that is accepted by the program. The minimum grant amount corresponds to 25 acres, at a rate of $110 per acre, paid over five years, or $13,750. Large unbroken parcels of high quality habitat are most desirable for species conservation, said.

Stranded bird saved during holiday


By Charles McMahon
cmcmahon@seacoastonline.com
December 27, 2012 2:00 AM

PORTSMOUTH — While many people spent their Christmas Eve running errands and picking up some last-minute presents, local resident Jack Farrell found himself attempting to return a special ocean-going bird to its natural habitat.

Farrell, who is the island manager for Star Island Corp., said the unique experience began early Christmas Eve morning, when he got a phone call from a neighbor telling him about a "strange bird" that had been found on the Seacoast.

The bird, which was identified as a Dovekie, was one of three found on the Seacoast not long after a storm struck the region late last week, Farrell said.

The Dovekie, a small, chunky, black and white bird, had been taken to the Center For Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine. As it turns out, the bird was the only one of three found locally to survive since it became stranded.

Because Dovekies are native to the open Atlantic Ocean, they must be in offshore waters to survive. That meant the bird, which is part of the puffin family, would need to be returned to open water before it was too late.

"They typically spend most of their time out in the open ocean," said Sonja Ahlberg, wildlife specialist with the Center for Wildlife.


Penguin-like bird pops up in Brevard


Scientists not sure why this cold-weather critter so far south

They typically winter no farther south than New Jersey. Maybe Hurricane Sandy steered them off course or disrupted their usual diet of schooling fish.

Biologists aren’t sure why razorbills, penguin-like birds, have flocked to the Space Coast and elsewhere in Florida.

The black birds with white underbellies flapped their way to Kennedy Space Center, where Audubon members spotted a few recently during their annual Christmas Bird Count.
“Everybody’s talking about it,” said Ned Steel, who coordinates the Audubon count on Merritt Island, which includes the secure  area of the space center.

Blogging birders have dubbed it a “razorbill invasion of Florida,” posting their photos as proof on a Google pin map.


Bird Survives Double Fish Hooking Thanks to Roadside Hero


By Donna Marie Parker of Florida
I volunteer for wildlife rescue in Tampa, Florida. At about 11 o’clock at night, I got a call about a cormorant on the Howard Frankland Bridge. A bird was tangled in fishing wire and the poor fella had been there since 5:30. So I took my net and headed out.

It was dark and when I got on the bridge I was thinking, “Oh God, please let someone have beat me to it this time and have already gotten him.”  But no such luck for him nor I. There he was, as traffic barrelled by him, scared half to death.

I pulled over the 4runner and got my net out, but he saw me and headed towards traffic away from the bridge wall.


Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/bird-survives-double-fish-hooking-thanks-to-roadside-hero.html#ixzz2GA8yL0me

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Bewick's swans: Baby boost for threatened birds


Northwest Europe's threatened Bewick's swan population has been boosted by a bumper year for chicks.

Numbers of the bird have declined dramatically since the 1990s.

Up to 7,000 Bewick's swans usually migrate to the UK, arriving in October and flying back to Russia in March.

But surveys this year show the number of young among these wintering flocks has risen to 17.6%, compared to an average of around 10% over the past 10 years.

Ornithologists have reported an overall average of 14% young swans in flocks across northern Europe, the highest since 2001.

"It really is fantastic to see so many cygnets arriving back. They have certainly been few and far between in recent years," said Julia Newth from the Wildfowl and Wetlands trust (WWT).

Bewick's swans travel 2,500 miles (4,000km) from their breeding grounds within the Arctic tundra in Russia to spend the winter in the warmer British Isles and other parts of northern Europe, such as the Netherlands and Germany.

The smallest swan in Europe, Bewick's swans are distinguishable from fellow migrant whooper swans by their size and small yellow blob on their black beaks, rather than the whooper's yellow wedge.

Possums eating rare birds


Felicity Ogilvie reported this story on Wednesday, December 26, 2012 08:24:00
ALTERNATE WMA VERSION | MP3 DOWNLOAD
DAVID MARK: A Canadian researcher is trying to find out why one of Australia's rarest birds is on the decline.

Amanda Edworthy is spending her summer climbing trees on Tasmania's Bruny Island, south of Hobart, to unlock the secrets of the Spotted Pardalote.

She's discovered local possums are reaching into nest boxes and eating the birds.

Felicity Ogilvie reports from Bruny Island.

(sound of birds)

Critically endangered parakeets back from the brink on predator free island


New Zealand's Kakariki thriving on safe havens
December 2012. The critically endangered orange-fronted parakeets are thriving at Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds, a new study has found.

A base population of 11 has jumped to nearly 100 since the birds were moved to the predator-free sanctuary five years ago. However, there are still less than 1000 birds worldwide.

11 birds moved to Maud Island in 2007
The study, by Dr Luis Ortiz-Catedral and Professor Dianne Brunton from Massey University's Institute of Natural Sciences, investigated what happened after 11 captive-bred Malherbe's parakeets (Cyanoramphus malherbi) or kākāriki karaka weremoved to Maud Island in 2007.

Critically Endangered
A native New Zealand bird, the orange-fronted parakeets are listed as critically endangered on Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In 2004 it was estimated there were between 300 and 500 Malherbe's parakeets left in the world.

In December 2005, captive-bred birds were moved to Chalky Island in Fiordland, and in 2007 transported to Maud Island began. Further populations were moved to Tuhua Island in December 2009 and Blumine Island in 2011 and this year.

With funding from the Department of Conservation, Forest & Bird and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Dr Ortiz-Catedral surveyed the Maud Island birds. He used a simple methodology based on sightings and estimated their survival during the study period, known as "mark-resighting".

Secretive
Due to the secretive nature of New Zealand parakeets, this methodology had not been used before. However, on Maud Island the tameness of parakeets allowed for detailed, repeated observations of the birds in their new habitat. Dr Ortiz-Catedral says after success with the parakeets, this method could be applied to similar species in other island populations in New Zealand and around the world.

High reproduction rates
Since March 2007, regular surveys were conducted on Maud Island to record juveniles hatched on site and others released on the island. Within two years, Dr Ortiz-Catedral estimates the population increased from 11 to a maximum of 97 birds, due to the high reproductive potential of the species, and the absence of introduced mammalian predators.
"The evidence from this study suggests translocating captive-bred birds to sanctuaries like Maud Island, which are free of invasive predators, is an effective management method for increasing the global population size of the species," he says. "It is hoped this will eventually downgrade its IUCN threat category."

Dr Brunton says the study is an excellent starting point for further monitoring programmes for other parakeets managed through translocation, and proves such a managed conservation programme is effective.

Orange-fronted parakeets remain one of the least known forest birds in New Zealand due to their rarity, and the ambiguity of their status as a separate species.

Dr Ortiz-Catedral hopes that this study will promote awareness of the species.

Harrier deaths renew calls for continued windfarm monitoring


Last modified: 21 December 2012
RSPB Scotland has today ( 21st  December 2012)  confirmed that  an adult male hen harrier was found dead at a Perthshire wind farm, with a second bird found injured three weeks later. Hen harriers are a scarce species that hunt over rough grazings and moorland.

The birds were discovered on separate occasions earlier this Spring, in the same section of the Griffin Wind Farm, near Aberfeldy. The area had been forestry that was clear felled to aid the wind farms construction and operation.

RSPB Scotland is now able to confirm that no further hen harriers appear to have been affected at the windfarm during 2012. RSPB Scotland staff have been working closely with operators SSE to avoid any repeat tragedies. This has included visits to the site and advice to increase post-construction monitoring. This will enable staff to understand how the birds use the site, particularly during the species’ display period.

The Griffin Wind farm, comprising 68 turbines, was granted permission in 2009. It was switched on in two phases, starting in March and becoming fully operational in July 2012.
The first hen harrier was discovered by engineers below a turbine on the 18th April, just three weeks later a second male was found unable to take off close to the same turbine. The bird was found to have an injured wing and sadly later died.

Aedán Smith, head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland said : “This is a tragic situation and is likely to have had an impact on the local breeding success of this vulnerable species. Sustained persecution has placed the hen harrier under significant pressure, with the raptor teetering on the brink of extinction in England.  However, wind farm collisions, the apparent reason for the death of these two birds, remain very rare events indeed.


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

RSPB scraps turbine plan on nature reserve


By Jamie Buchan
Published: 22/12/2012

RSPB Scotland bosses have scrapped controversial plans for a wind turbine at a north-east nature reserve, the Press and Journal can reveal today.

The bird charity came under heavy criticism for its plan to raise a 62ft mast at the Loch of Strathbeg, a haven for tens of thousands of birds on the coast between Peterhead and Fraserburgh.

It was hoped the small-scale green energy scheme would help slash the site’s carbon footprint and help generate funds for future developments.

For the full story, pick up a copy of today’s Press and Journal or read our digital edition now


Rare birds flock to Pulicat lake


There’s good news for birdwatchers this season. A team of ornithologists and forest officials has spotted rare newcomers at Pulicat lake.

The migratory species were discovered on Friday in the course of the first bird census at the lake, around 65 kms north of Chennai, for the migratory season between October and March.

With major waterbodies such as Arani, Kalangi and Swarnamukhi rivers, situated near the sanctuary, filled up by the rains, the lake has turned an attractive feeding ground for thousands of migratory birds.

Most of the birds have traversed several thousand kilometres and arrived from countries in the northern hemisphere including Russia, the Far East, Mongolia, China and Pakistan.
The day-long bird census was conducted by the wildlife division of the State forest department to find the number of birds, variety of species and areas within the sanctuary they favoured.

“Such an exercise helps us understand the migratory pattern of the birds and the reasons. The arrival of more migratory birds is also an indication of the region’s rich biodiversity,” a senior forest official said.

On Saturday, a similar exercise was carried out at Vedanthangal bird sanctuary, too, an official said.

Some of the rare migratory birds spotted for the first time at Pulicat lake include the orange-headed thrush, black shoulder kite, comb duck, black-capped kingfisher, caspian tern, curlew, European herring gull, and black bittern.

“Apart from the severe winter in the north, the availability of water and food are major factors for the birds to travel long distances. In fact, birds are known to survey stretches along the migratory route for a few years before settling down there for feeding or breeding,” a biologist said.

South Florida wading bird nesting dips, raising environmental concerns


South Florida's wading bird population suffered during 2012, with nesting on the decline due to the return of too much water too fast for herons, Wood Storks, ibises and egrets.

The 2012 wading bird nest total was a 39 percent decline compared to the average over the past decade, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

While the 26,395 wading bird nests found were just 57 less than last year, it was also the third year in a row of poor nesting totals.

It continued the steep drop off from 2009's spike to 77,505 nests – which was the most since the 1940s.

Back to back years of drought followed by a rainy 2012 resulted in yo-yoing water levels that caught many wading birds off guard. Also, the small prey fish that wading birds rely on to survive have yet to recover from previous droughts.


American Buff-Bellied Pipit spotted at Queen Mother Reservoir


Birdwatchers have been flocking to a reservoir in Berkshire to catch a glimpse of a rare American bird which has accidentally migrated to the UK.

Almost one thousand people have travelled to Queen Mother Reservoir to see the American Buff-Bellied Pipit.

Less than 20 of the species - which normally migrate from North to South America for the winter - have ever been spotted in the UK.

Ornithologist Paul Stancliffe called it a "tremendous specimen".

Rare visits
This rare UK visitor is part of the Motacillidae family of pipits and wagtails. Members common to the UK include the meadow pipit, pied wagtail and grey wagtailOther recent rare visitors have included a bee-eater in Sunderland and a desert wheatear which migrated to an Essex sandpit.

Mr Stancliffe, who is from the British Trust for Ornithology, added: "It's incredibly rare. In birding terms it's 'mega', and that doesn't mean literally - it's the size of a robin - but in terms of its presence.

"It's phenomenal and you forget it's crossed the Atlantic, and breeds in North America, but this small bird has survived that crossing and found somewhere to its liking.

"It's been caught up in one of the pulsing transatlantic storms and probably arrived here in a couple of days."

Continued:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-20767558

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Up in smoke: charcoal production threatens almost a tenth of Somalia’s avifauna


December 2012.When African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) forces took control of the port city of Kismayo in Southern Somalia in September, they found an estimated four million sacks of charcoal waiting to be exported. A further four million sacks were stockpiled in and around the city, and at the village of Buur Gabo, near the Kenyan border.

Much of the charcoal going out of Kismayo is believed to have come from the Jubba valley, part of an Endemic Bird Area (EBA) shared between Somalia and Ethiopia, which includes six Important Bird Areas (IBAs) on the Somali side of the border. All the charcoal at Buur Gabo is thought to have come from the mangroves and Acacia forests of the Laag Badaana (Bush Bush National Park) IBA, which is contiguous with the Boni Forest Reserve on the Kenyan side of the border, part of the East African Coastal Forests EBA. Further stocks of charcoal subsequently found at Badhaadhe, to the north of Laag Badaana, are also likely to have come from the national park.

Between them the Jubba forests and Laag Badana are home to more than 50 bird species not found anywhere else in Somalia, representing 9% of Somalia's recorded avifauna, and their survival in the country is threatened by the scale of charcoal production.

Charcoal export ban ignored
The UN and the Somali government have banned the export of charcoal, which provided the main source of income for the al-Shabaab militants who previously controlled Kishmayo. The Somali government ban on charcoal exports dates back to 1969, and Somalia's new president has re-emphasised that he does not want either the Somali ban, or the UN one, lifted. But exports have resumed because the port is under control of forces that are beyond the control of the president.

Now that the charcoal is moving, mangrove and Acacia trees are once again being cut down. Reports indicate that many people involved in charcoal production are well aware that the damage to their environment and livelihoods is likely to be irreversible, but see themselves as having no economic alternative.

It is thought likely that the fragile Acacia dry forest ecosystems in particular will be unable to recover, while Laag Badana holds the most important remnant of Somalia's mangroves, which are under extreme pressure elsewhere from exploitation and coastal development.


Effects of Climate Change On Birds Worsened by Housing Development


Dec. 19, 2012 — Although climate change may alter the distributions of many species, changes in land use may compound these effects. Now, a new study by PRBO Conservation Science (PRBO) researcher Dennis Jongsomjit and colleagues suggests that the effects of future housing development may be as great or greater than those of climate change for many bird species. In fact, some species projected to expand their distributions with climate change may actually lose ground when future development is brought into the picture.

The study, "Between a rock and a hard place: The impacts of climate change and housing development on breeding birds in California," appears online in the journal Landscape Ecology.

Conservationists have long known that changing land use and development may pose a major threat to wildlife through habitat loss and degradation. Yet, many recent studies have focused solely on how the changing climate will impact species. It is now clear that focusing on only one of these threats may underestimate the actual risk to species from future environmental changes.


Can Birds Make Us Happy?


Dec. 17, 2012 — As millions of us post our Christmas cards -- many of which star a robin red breast -- ecologists are investigating whether birds make us happy. Speaking at this week's British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, researchers will reveal how they are investigating the links between birds and our well-being, and explain how their results -- due out next year -- could have a major impact on UK bird conservation.

There has been an increasing amount of research on the health benefits of green spaces such as parks and nature reserves, but we know far less about how the wildlife within these habitats contributes towards well-being benefits.

Take wild birds for example says PhD student Natalie Clark from the University of Reading, who is leading the study: "Most of us say we enjoy seeing wild birds in our local environments every day, be that the friendly robin visiting our garden each Christmas or ducks swimming in the local pond. But we have little idea of how much we value their presence and how they're contributing to our overall well-being."

Given the declining numbers of many bird species the study -- which also involves the University of East Anglia, the RSPB and the University of Chicago -- is timely. "Any well-being benefit we may be receiving could soon be in jeopardy as numbers of many wild bird species have declined across the UK since the 1970s," says Clark.

Merry Christmas to all


To all of you who love birds and marvel at their beauty.

Thank you for reading this blog

Merry Christmas to you all


Monday, 24 December 2012

Birdsong Bluster May Dupe Strange Females, but It Won't Fool Partners


Dec. 18, 2012 — Male birds use their song to dupe females they have just met by pretending they are in excellent physical condition.

Just as some men try to cast themselves in a better light when they approach would-be dates, so male birds in poor condition seek to portray that they are fitter than they really are. But males do not even try to deceive their long-term partners, who are able to establish the true condition of the male by their song.

Researchers at the University of Exeter studied zebra finches to establish how trustworthy birdsong was in providing honest signals about the male's value as a mate. Singing is a test of the condition of birds because it uses a lot of energy. Fit and healthy birds are thought to be able to sustain a high song rate for longer, making them more attractive to females.

The research team, which included scientists from the Université de Bourgogne in France, looked at short and longer encounters with unknown females, as well as patterns of song around females who were familiar to them.

The team discovered that males in poor condition could "cheat" and vary their song to give a false impression to stranger females. But they did not even try to fool those who knew them, who used song as a reliable test of their underlying qualities. The research is published on December 19 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B


Peacock Love Songs Lure Eavesdropping Females from Afar


Dec. 20, 2012 — Deep in the scrublands of Keoladeo National Park in northwest India, one thing was hard for biologist Jessica Yorzinski to ignore: It wasn't the heat. It wasn't the jackals. It was the squawks of peacocks in the throes of passion.

From behind the trees in the distance, she could hear a loud two-part whoop, the distinctive call that male peacocks make right before mating.

During the peacock courtship dance, a male announces that he's ready to make his move by dashing towards the object of his affection and emitting a singular squawk before mounting his mate.

"Peacocks have a number of different courtship calls, but this is the only one specifically associated with the moment before copulation, a time when the female is finally right in front of the male. It's called the hoot-dash display," said Duke University researcher Jessica Yorzinski.

The amorous peacock's signature hoot poses a puzzle for scientists.

For one, he's already got the girl.

"By that point she's already right there, checking him out. You'd think that he might not need another signal at such a late stage in the courtship process," Yorzinski said.

How Songbirds Learn to Sing: Mathematical Model Explains How Birds Correct Mistakes to Say On Key


Dec. 20, 2012 — Scientists studying how songbirds stay on key have developed a statistical explanation for why some things are harder for the brain to learn than others.

"We've built the first mathematical model that uses a bird's previous sensorimotor experience to predict its ability to learn," says Emory biologist Samuel Sober. "We hope it will help us understand the math of learning in other species, including humans."

Sober conducted the research with physiologist Michael Brainard of the University of California, San Francisco.

Their results, showing that adult birds correct small errors in their songs more rapidly and robustly than large errors, were published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Sober's lab uses Bengalese finches as a model for researching the mechanisms of how the brain learns to correct vocal mistakes.

Just like humans, baby birds learn to vocalize by listening to adults. Days after hatching, Bengalese finches start imitating the sounds of adults. "At first, their song is extremely variable and disorganized," Sober says. "It's baby talk, basically."


Leucistic robin has 'Santa beard'


‘Santa Robin' is timely leucistic bird
December 2012. This remarkable bird has been reported to the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) Abnormal Plumage Survey.

The timely ‘Santa Robin', which was seen by Ian Wilson in Derbyshire, is a leucistic bird. This inherited disorder causes parts of a bird's plumage not to have their normal colour and to appear white, often affecting areas around the face and on the wings.

Most common in blackbirds
It's not just Robins that are being spotted through the BTO Abnormal Plumage Survey. In total, over 1,500 birds across more than 35 species - ranging from Blue Tit and Chaffinch to Buzzard and Coot - have already been recorded in the UK's gardens. Blackbirds with unusual white feathers have been logged most often, with members of the crow family, including Jackdaw, Carrion Crow and Rook, also featuring highly.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Landmark move to protect albatrosses in the Western and Central Pacific


More protection for albatross
December 2012. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) have agreed to measures that could result in significant reductions in the deaths of albatrosses, which accidently get snagged on longline fishing hooks and then drown.

Two seabird bycatch mitigation measures
The meeting, held in the Philippines, announced that all longline vessels in the South Pacific will now be required to use two seabird bycatch mitigation measures in areas overlapping with albatrosses (South of 30S). Vessels must choose from a choice of either bird streamers, also known as tori lines, which scare birds away from the hooks; adding weights to hooks to make them sink more quickly; or setting hooks at night when most birds are less active.

The move brings the WCPFC, which is the world's largest tuna commission, in-line with the measures adopted in Atlantic in November 2011 and the Indian Ocean in April 2012.
300,000 seabirds killed in longline fisheries

Scientists estimate that upwards of 300,000 seabirds are being killed every year by longline fisheries; it's believed this is the primary reason behind 17 of the world's 22 species of albatrosses being threatened with extinction.

Albatross populations
Home to globally important populations of 14 albatross species, including Antipodean, Chatham, Buller's, Salvin's, Shy and White-capped, the Pacific Ocean is home to large fleets of longliners fishing for tuna. Tuna longliners typically deploy several thousand hooks every day, attached by branchlines to a main line that can be more than 100km long. Seabirds, especially albatrosses, are vulnerable to becoming hooked when they take the bait, and are drowned as the line sinks.

Dr Cleo Small, from the RSPB and BirdLife International, said: "This move is great news for albatrosses worldwide, including some UK albatross species such as the wandering albatross, which fly right around the world in the non-breeding period and can be victims of bycatch from the longliners that fish in the South Pacific. Without such measures, these beautiful birds could be lost forever."


Animal Attraction: Rare tropical bird spotted in Austin


The fork-tailed flycatcher, native to Central and South America, was spotted by birder Shelia Hargis Saturday near McKinney Falls State Park during Travis County Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist Mark Klym attributes the bird sighting so far North as a product of a confused migration path.

“The fork-tailed flycatcher usually comes from Argentina to Mexico at this time of year,” Klym said. “Every once and a while one of them seems to overfly that northbound migration and end up in Texas.”

Females are usually around 12 inches and males are larger at around 15 inches long. Though the bird is around a foot long it only weighs about an ounce making it ideal for gliding through thousands of miles of airspace.

On Monday it was reported there were two fork-tailed flycatchers in the area, yet upon inspection of the image it was determined to be the flycatcher sitting with one of its relatives, the scissor-tailed flycatcher.

“We have so many people coming from all over Texas and the U.S. to see this bird,” said park ranger Amber Conrad. “This bird is relatively small, it’s like a little cotton ball with some black string hanging off of it for its head and its tail.”


When Birds Go to Town


Urban settings offer enterprising critters new opportunities — if they can cope with the challenges 
      
Anne Clark and Kevin McGowan are discussing, perfectly seriously, how a crow might be able to recognize a car. Not tell a car from, say, a cat, but pick out the red Subaru from other cars in the parking lot.

Clark, an animal behaviorist at Binghamton University in New York, is sitting in her own red Subaru with McGowan, of Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca. Neither bothers to mention — it’s apparently so routine — that when Clark pulled into the lot, two crows flapped over to nearby trees. Country crows often back away from human doings, but these birds lingered as if people-watching.

Clark and McGowan are running a long-term study of what urban life is like for a group of Ithaca’s crows, tagging and following them as they grow up, take over or lose territories, and succeed or not in raising the next generation of research subjects. Even in a university town, the birds probably aren’t lured to the Subaru by the thrill of scientific discovery, but rather by the scientists’ occasional ploy of flinging peanuts and dog food out the window to engineer some bird activity.

“They know us,” McGowan says. There isn’t another Subaru in the lot to test the birds’ discriminatory abilities, but McGowan has inadvertently conducted his own experiment. He sold his car and bought a new one. McGowan was temporarily invisible automotively, but the birds caught on eventually. And the old car’s new owner reported that a crow appeared to be following him to work. It was OK; the driver just provisioned the car with peanuts for an occasional fling.

Nairobi Convention COP 7 adopts a decision to conserve birds


The Seventh Conference of Parties (COP 7) of the Nairobi Convention ended on 14th December with a COP Decision to designate Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the territories of the Contracting Parties as a tool for conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems, and to use information on birds as indicators of ecosystem health.

The decision also requested the Secretariat of the Nairobi Convention, in collaboration with the Contracting Parties, to review the Convention’sProtocol Concerning Protected Areas and Wild Fauna and Flora in the East Africa Region.

Formal recognition of marine IBAs in the Convention region and review of the protocol were two of the recommendations documented in the regional synthesis report on the status of birds and their habitats in the Western Indian Ocean developed through a project led by BirdLife Africa Partnership in collaboration with the Nairobi Convention Secretariat. The synthesis report and BirdLife presentation at the COP created much needed awareness on bird conservation as indicator of the wider ecosystems health, especially now that oil and gas is gaining momentum in national and regional development agenda.