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, 31 January 2013

Rarest kiwis released into the wild as numbers double in 15 years

A successful project to save New Zealand's rarest kiwi species-the rowi-from extinction, has enabled New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC) to return another 9 young birds to Ōkārito forest.

One of New Zealand's species recovery success stories, the rowi has been brought back from a population low of fewer than 200 birds in 1998 to nearly 400 birds today.

"The doubling of the population has been thanks to a blend of old-fashioned hard work and new techniques and technology-including a ground-breaking aerial tracking system called Sky Ranger." says Cornelia Vervoorn, community relations ranger with DOC.

Stoat problem
"If these birds had been left in the wild, there is a 95% chance that they would have been killed by stoats soon after hatching. However, as part of BNZ Operation Nest Egg, DOC rangers rescued the eggs before they hatched and took them to the West Coast Wildlife Centre in Franz Josef. They were incubated and hatched in the centre's husbandry unit before being taken to predator-free Motuara Island in the Marlborough Sounds. Now that the chicks have grown up and are strong enough to repel stoat attacks, they are completing their journey and being released back into the Ōkārito Kiwi Sanctuary."

Watch: Taxidermied Robot Sparrow Flips The Bird To Real Sparrows

Further research has been halted after the robot's head was ripped off by angry birds.

Male sparrows do indeed get angry, especially when another male is intruding on his territory. Angry birds can fight to the death in whirling masses of feathers and beaks. But sometimes a bird would rather try to bluff and scare off a potential foe, using rude wing gestures to show it’s ready to fight and welcomes the challenge (although it might not). To study this in more detail, scientists at Duke University stuffed some robotics equipment inside a dead bird.

Duke undergrad David Piech assembled a miniature processor and some servos and put it into a taxidermied sparrow. Then biologist Rindy Anderson and colleagues took it into a swamp sparrow breeding ground in Pennsylvania. The team rigged a speaker beneath a robo-bird perch, so the dummy sparrow would seem to be “singing” to alert other male birds of his presence. It also could move a wing, in a bird version of raising your fists. Then the team watched what happened.

The live birds responded aggressively toward the wing-waving robobird, Anderson said. They were so aggressive that they killed it--one bird ripped off robobird’s head during a true fight to the death. Further experiments are halted indefinitely.

The team also used a stuffed bird that could twist from side to side and not wave its wing, and the real birds attacked this one, too, but were not as aggressive about it. Anderson’s team thought the real birds might match the wing signals of the robobird, and they did, with each bird demonstrating different levels of aggression. The study is a step toward understanding how birds communicate using visual displays, as well as tweets and song, the researchers say. It’s published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Cultural Evolution Changes Bird Song

Jan. 29, 2013 — Thanks to cultural evolution, male Savannah sparrows are changing their tune, partly to attract "the ladies."

According to a study of more than 30 years of Savannah sparrows recordings, the birds are singing distinctly different songs today than their ancestors did 30 years ago -- changes passed along generation to generation, according to a new study by University of Guelph researchers.

Integrative biology professors Ryan Norris and Amy Newman, in collaboration with researchers at Bowdoin College and Williams College in the U.S., analyzed the songs of male Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichiensis) recorded over three decades, and found that the songs had changed distinctly from 1980 to 2011.

"The change is the result of cultural transmission of different song elements through many generations," said Norris.

Norris added that the change in tune resembles changes in word choice and language among humans.

"If you listen to how people used to talk in the 1890s and how we talk today, you would notice major differences, and this is the result of shifts in culture or the popularity of certain forms," he said. "The change in sparrow songs over time has occurred much the same way"
The sparrows, which live on Kent Island, N.B., in the Bay of Fundy, can generally sing only one song type that consists of several parts. Male sparrows learn that song early in their first year and continue to sing the same tune for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Ag lands can be used as bird sanctuaries

By KATE CAMPBELL/Courtesy Of Ag Alert
Created:   01/27/2013 12:31:11 AM PST

Winter is usually a time when farming in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta slows down, but these days delta farmers are busy managing a different, louder -- and far more mobile -- aspect of their operations. Increasingly, land used to grow vegetable, field and forage crops from spring to fall is being transitioned to winter wildlife habitat.

The Cosumnes River Preserve, located off Interstate 5 south of Elk Grove, includes stands of old-growth valley oaks, vernal pools and natural wetlands. It also is home to the world's largest population of giant garter snakes; the area's rivers and streams provide habitat for protected fish.

And, on nearby Staten Island, a 9,000-acre agricultural tract outside Walnut Grove, there's one of the most important sandhill crane sanctuaries in the state.

At sunset on a winter evening last week, the cranes -- redheaded, with a wingspan of up to eight feet and weighing more than 10 pounds -- swooped over the island's flooded cornfields and settled in for the night. The birds' haunting bugles joined the avian chorus of quacks and calls that reaches a crescendo at dusk.

This wildlife phenomenon, which also takes place in Sacramento Valley rice fields to the north, attracts tourists and wildlife photographers from all over the world.

To nurture these burgeoning wildlife populations, increased habitat is created through a carefully managed system of field flooding and draining, which breaks down rice and corn residue while providing food and habitat.

Environmentalists and many farmers agree they want the birds, which are part of the winter migration along the Pacific Flyway, to continue roosting in the delta far into the future. To encourage that, they're testing and adopting cultural practices for corn and other crops.

Bird hazard study planned at Riverton airport

RIVERTON — The city of Riverton has agreed to pay $73,000 to assess bird hazards at its regional airport.

The city budgeted $133,000 for the review, but all four bids came in under that amount. Loomacres Wildlife Management Inc. of Warnerville, N.Y., submitted the lowest bid. The company, which has an office in Worland, will study migratory patterns year-round to determine if birds pose a danger to aircraft.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Owl attack terror in Inverness - via Lindsay Selby

By Jenna Conti
A MAN was rushed to Raigmore Hospital after he was left bleeding from the back of his head following a bizarre attack involving an owl.

The incident took place in a built up area of Inverness near to the city centre.

John Mackay (58) was taken by surprise when he claims the large bird of prey, believed to be an Eagle Owl, knocked him to the ground and attacked the back of his head on Saturday evening.

The incident happened just outside the Masonic Club on Gordon Terrace in Inverness at around 9.15pm.

If you have seen the owl in our around Inverness city centre or in a built up area contact the Highland News on 01463 732230 or

For the full story, see this week’s Highland News.

Cambodia reports 3 new bird flu cases, 2 fatal

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia on Friday reported three new human cases of bird flu, two of them fatal, in the first three weeks of this year. That's as many cases as the Southeast Asian country reported in all of 2012.

The cases are among the first reported in 2013 for the virulent H5N1 virus, which the World Health Organization says has killed 360 other people worldwide since surfacing in 2003.

WHO and Cambodia's health ministry announced that a 15-year-old girl in a village in southeastern Takeo province and a 35-year-old man in central Kampong Speu province died after being hospitalized with H5N1, better known as bird flu. An 8-month-old boy in the capital, Phnom Penh, was treated and survived.

Cambodia reported three cases last year, all of them fatal. Since 2005, it has recorded 21 cases, 19 of them fatal.

The disease remains hard for people to catch, but experts fear it could mutate into a more deadly form that spreads easily from person to person. So far, most human cases have been linked to contact with infected poultry.

On Wednesday, international scientists who last year halted controversial research with the deadlybird flu virus said they were resuming their work as countries adopt new rules to ensure safety.

An outcry had erupted when two labs — in the Netherlands and the U.S. — reported they had created easier-to-spread versions of bird flu. Amid fierce debate about the oversight of such research and whether it might aid terrorists, those scientists voluntarily halted further work last January.

Those scientists announced Wednesday they were ending their moratorium now that health authorities have had time to determine how they will oversee high-stakes research involving dangerous germs. Several countries have already issued new rules.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Biologist says NMI has healthy bird population

THE commonwealth has a healthy bird population, but the help of the community is still needed to maintain it and help with reforestration efforts.

Shelly Kremer, a wildlife biologist at the CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife, was yesterday’s guest speaker at the Rotary Club of Saipan meeting at the Hyatt.

She said Saipan, Tinian and Rota have more bird species compared to Guam and this helps in the reforestration process.

Kremer said birds help in reforestration as seeds that pass through the digestive tracts of birds have more of a chance to grow into trees.

Showing photos of houses and yards on island that were bare from lack of trees, Kremer said birds will not stay where there are no trees.

“Our birds are resilient, but they need our help,” Kremer said.

She is urging members of the community to do their landscaping with the wildlife in mind, making backyards and the general environment friendly for the birds.

Kremer said the CNMI has a lot of endemic bird species, or those not found anywhere else in the world: Rota White Eye, Mariana Crow, Tinian Monarch, Rufous Fantail, Golden White Eye, White-throated Ground Dove, Micronesia Megapode, Mariana Swiftlet, Saipan Bridled White-eye, Nightingale Reed Warbler and the Mariana Moorhen.

Kremer said among the birds that were introduced and are not native to the islands are the Black Drongo, Orange-Checked Waxbill, Island Collared Dove, and the Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

She urged the Rotarians to test their own backyards to check how bird-friendly they are. She said one will know how bird friendly one’s backyard is by the kind of birds that are found there.

“We are urging the community to plant more trees and keep the islands bird-friendly,” Kremer said.

In a Power Point presentation, she enumerated the functions and benefits of trees including water conservation, livelihood, food, beauty, medicines, shelter, oxygen, run-off reduction, carbon storage, noise barriers, flood prevention, paper production, wildlife, soil production, heat reduction, culture, water and air cleaning, fuel and erosion reduction.

Trees that are good for birds are gaogao or tiger claw, ahgoa or false elder, sumak, agatelang, lulujut, alum, aphoghating, nunu or banyan, papaya, guava, nanaso and manzanita.

Is lead shot poisoning the UK's birds?

Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) has welcomed the Government's announcement to review the progress of the Lead Ammunition Group

January 2013. The Lead Ammunition Group was set up in 2010 in response to urgent concerns about the toxic effects of ammunition made of lead, which is a poisonous substance to all forms of life. Most lead shot misses its target and falls to the ground where it can be ingested by several species of birds including swans, ducks and geese who mistake it for food or the grit they use to grind food.

8% of dead wild birds killed by lead poisoning
WWT research has found that 1 in 3 wild birds sampled suffer from lead poisoning, and that it was the cause of death for 1 in 12 dead wild birds sampled.

Environment Minister Lord De Mauley, answering a written question, told the House of Lords "the (Lead Ammunition) group has agreed to provide a report to Ministers in April 2013 and Defra will review the progress of the group at this stage".

"Lead is a poison"
WWT Chief Executive Martin Spray said: "Lead is a poison, yet we still allow thousands of tons of it to be spread across our countryside. Thousands of birds suffer and die from ingesting lead shot left on the ground.

"The Lead Ammunition Group's work is crucial in assessing the damage caused to wildlife and people by lead shot. It was set up in response to an urgent request in 2010 and there is a danger that, with still no sign of a final report, the group could be seen to be moving too slowly while wildlife continues to suffer and die. The group's commitment to publishing an interim report in April sends a strong signal that it is getting on with the job, and I welcome the Government's decision to review the group's progress thereafter".

Wildlife Extra wonders if birds would be better off if those wielding the guns were better shots?

Mad Science: Bird Flu Experiment Insane

Remember the whole bird flu scare of a year or two ago?  We dodged that bullet, so what are scientists doing now?  You guessed it:  creating a new strain of the avian flu virus that can jump from species to species.  And this is supposedly in the name of protecting our health?  Really, scientists, isn’t there some cure for disease you could be working on?

Previously there was concern that the H5N1 virus would jump between birds to infect humans.  And, when we were warned about a possible pandemic, scientists agreed on a moratorium to prevent the creation of new strains of this virus…to prevent any new strains from passing from birds to humans.  Yet here they are only one year later…trying to CREATE a new strain of this virus.  Scientists are changing the H5N1 avian flu virus in the lab to make it transmissible between mammals through “respiratory droplets”—in this case ferrets.  According to the news reports, Dutch virologists will be attempting to understand how the bird virus could spread through the air to humans.  News reports suggest that the experiments will begin in weeks.

The same research was considered a biosecurity threat only a year ago.  Now, we’re supposed to believe that it is in our best interests?  I don’t think so.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Protection Plans: Bird conservation & project management

By Caitlin Bell
Ecology and wildlife conservation is an issue with almost any construction project, and renewable energy projects are no exception. This is particularly true of wind energy farms, which are often located in remote, ecology rich areas. Bird management and conservation is a necessary consideration for any wind energy developer. Nesting birds on turbine grounds or to-be turbine grounds are of particular concern, often creating project delays before construction even begins.

Fortunately, new approaches are helping renewable energy project proponents to streamline agency consultation, and reduce the risk of project delays resulting from nesting birds at construction sites. Since 2005, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has recommended that site planners voluntarily develop Avian Protection Plans to reduce an electrical transmission project’s impact on birds—particularly bald and golden eagles—during building and operation.

Although originally specific to transmission projects, USFWS now recommends Avian Protection Plans be developed for any large-scale energy project, including for wind and solar power farms. These plans serve to outline design standards, training programs, permit compliance, as well as reporting and monitoring programs that collectively reduce the risk of avian mortality during site construction and operation.

Avian Protection Plans also act as a tangible way to document compliance with federal and state wildlife regulations, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

Avian safety
Recently, the USFWS and other wildlife agencies have recommended the addition of Nesting Bird Management Plans (NBMP) to augment Avian Protection Plans. Or, implemented as stand-alone documents, to describe measures that will be taken to reduce the impacts to birds protected under the MBTA during the construction and operation of a project.

Nesting birds have been highlighted as a resource of increased concern on many large transmission, wind, and solar projects. The supplementation of a NBMP is intended to detail protective measures for special status and non-special status bird species. Increasingly, project proponents and compliance agencies are spending a large amount of effort and resources on nesting bird protections during project implementation.

To help simplify the process, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), federal and state resource agencies—such as the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), USFWS, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), US Forest Service (USFS)—and several California utilities have initiated discussions concerning the development of NBMPs in a standardized, consistent fashion.

NBMPs allow project owners and operators to “operationalize” the requirements of a bird-specific applicant proposed, and mitigate the measures listed in a project’s environmental document. No regulatory mechanism exists to authorize incidental take of a common bird species the way an Incidental Take Permit allows for a listed species under the federal and California Endangered Species Acts.

Mistle thrushes 'missing' from UK gardens

By Ella Davies Reporter, BBC Nature

Mistle thrushes have disappeared from UK gardens at a "staggering" rate, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Results from the charity's annual survey suggest the birds are seen in fewer than half the number of gardens they were 10 years ago.

Population estimates published at the end of last year confirm there are now just 170,000 breeding pairs.

The warning comes on the eve of the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch.

Experts compare the decline to that of the closely related song thrush.

Both thrush species have become rarer sights in UK gardens, with populations falling by more than half since the 1970s, according to the ongoing Breeding Bird Survey carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and partners.

But the continuing trend of decline among mistle thrushes is a key concern.

"If you look at the decline in the short term, from 1995 to 2010, we see that mistle thrushes have declined by 28%," said the RSPB's Graham Madge.

Over the same period, the song thrush, which has been recognised as a species of serious conservation concern, increased by 13%, according to figures from the The State of UK Birds report jointly published last November by the RSPB, BTO and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.


Dead condor found in Zion National Park in Utah

Lead poisoning suspected
January 2013. The Peregrine Fund, a driving force behind the conservation of Californian condors, had been hopeful that a pair of condors in Zion National Park would produce the first offspring in the state for many years. 

A Peregrine Fund spokesman said "Our hopeful pairing of adult condors 299 and 343 to be the first successful Utah pair has been hampered over the past few years by us having to treat one of them for lead poisoning during breeding season. Sadly, we have now found the adult 9-year-old female (Condor 343) dead in Zion National Park in Utah. This is a major step back from Utah's first breeding."

Official necropsy results are pending to determine cause of death, but this year's trapping results show a very high rate of lead poisoning in almost all of the Utah foraging birds.

Condor population
There are just 400 Californian condors alive today, of which around 175 are in captivity. The California condor has recovered from only 22 birds left in the world in 1982 to around 400 today. The original 22 birds were captured in an effort to breed and save the species. Condors bred and raised in captivity are now periodically released at sites in California, Mexico and at the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Rare birds halt Shell Cove marina project

The appearance of rare birds at the Shell Cove boat harbour construction site has prompted Shellharbour City Council and Australand to delay building a section of a three-metre-high earth noise barrier.

In recent weeks Illawarra bird-watching groups have spotted a number of rare and endangered birds in the Shellharbour Swamp area, including the endangered painted snipe and several migratory birds including Latham's snipe and the pectoral sandpiper.

A council spokeswoman said to accommodate the migratory birds, Shellharbour Council and Australand sought approval from authorities to delay the north-eastern segment of the wall until the threatened species migrated in April, while allowing works to continue some distance away from that section of the bund wall.

This pond area and swamp, once part of the former council rubbish tip site, will eventually be filled in as part of the approved boat harbour development, but will be used as part of the water management process during the early stages of construction.

Michelle Rower, who is a member of the Illawarra Birders and the Illawarra Bird Observers Club, said she was delighted.

The sightings, particularly of the painted snipe, had created a buzz among local bird watchers.

"The Latham's snipe will likely migrate between February and mid-March and the pectoral sandpipers will hang around for another month," Ms Rower said.

"The painted snipe pops up in different places so you don't really know how long it will stay, but hopefully it will be gone by the time they start constructing the wall."

Sex of Early Birds Suggests Dinosaur Reproductive Style: New Way to Identify Gender of Ancient Avian Species

Jan. 22, 2013 — In a paper published in Nature Communications on January 22, 2013, a team of paleontologists including Dr. Luis Chiappe, Director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County's (NHM) Dinosaur Institute, has discovered a way to determine the sex of a prehistoric bird species.

Confuciusornis sanctus, a 125-million-year-old Mesozoic bird, had remarkable differences in plumage -- some had long, almost body length ornamental tail feathers, others had none -- features that have been interpreted as the earliest example of avian courtship. However, the idea that male Confuciusornis birds had ornamental plumage, and females did not, has not been proven until now. Chiappe and the team studied hundreds of Confuciusornis fossils unearthed from rocks deposited at the bottom of ancient lakes in what is today northeastern China and found undisputed evidence of the gender difference: medullary bone.

Chiappe conducted the study with Anusuya Chinsamy of the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa; Jesús Marugán-Lobón of Madrid's Universidad Autonóma, Cantoblanco; Gao Chunling and Zhang Fengjiao of the Dalian Natural History Museum in China.

"Our discovery provides the first case of sex identification in an ancient bird, an animal closely related to dinosaurs, such as the famous Velociraptor," said Chiappe. "When people visit dinosaur exhibits, they often want to know if the skeletons are male or female. We have nicknames like Thomas and Sue, but of all the thousands of skeletons of dinosaurs or early birds found around the world, only the sex of a few has been determined."

Residents debate backyard bird ban in Cobb County

Posted: Jan 23, 2013 3:44 AM GSTUpdated: Jan 23, 2013 7:19 AM GST
By Kaliah Henton-Jones

People in Cobb County voiced their opinions Tuesday night on a proposal to allow chickens in backyards.

For nearly two years, one Marietta man fought county leaders for his right to keep chickens in his backyard.

He lost and had to relocate all of his foul and their hen house, but the commission might be changing their mind on the backyard bird ban.

The county wants people to pay a $1,000 fee for a special land use permit, if they want chickens on their property.

Some residents like Mahmoud Khatib find the idea ridiculous. Khatib said, "I can go out to Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna and buy myself an AK-47 in 15 minutes with a simple background check, but lo and behold, if I wanted to buy a chicken suddenly, this is going to require a survey of the entire neighborhood."

Others at the meeting want existing regulations to stay in place banning chickens.

Tuesday night's public hearing was the first of two on the issue.

Infrasonic Bird Repellent Shows Promise

January 23, 2013
By Mary Grady, Contributing editor

A nine-month test using infrasound to repel birds has been successful, Technology International Inc., of Louisiana, has reported. Low-frequency sounds, which are not heard by humans, were generated using a rotary woofer, the company said. The sounds "jam the birds' acoustic navigational system … [and] mimic the atmospheric disruptive features of unstable weather conditions that birds instinctively avoid." The sounds don't harm the birds, the company said. The company hopes to use the technology at airports to create bird-free zones, and plans to test a prototype system at an airport soon.

Bird strikes continue to be a major problem for aircraft around the world, causing about a billion dollars in damage each year. The frequencies used in the test are similar to infrasound emitted by thunderstorms, Technology Intl. CEO Abdo Husseiny told New Scientist, which may explain why the birds are averse to the sounds. The system can also be used to create zones that are attractive to birds and establish wildlife sanctuaries in safe areas. Husseiny said the technology could also be used in other settings besides airports, such as urban squares, harbors and wind farms. The equipment should be available commercially in about two years.

Friday, 25 January 2013

How the Barn Owl became Berkeley’s official bird

By Lisa Owens Viani
Lisa Owens Viani, co-founder of Raptors Are The Solution, recalls how her passion for owls began in Berkeley and led to possibly the least controversial Berkeley city council resolution ever passed: the designation of the Barn Owl as the city’s official bird.

My owl obsession began when I moved to Berkeley in 2003. One evening, while on an evening walk with a friend, she pointed out what she thought was the sound of someone breathing with the help of a respirator in a house on Edwards Street. That didn’t seem quite right — I instantly thought “bird” — but I wasn’t expecting to hear owls in such an urban spot.

I called a birder friend who suggested the possibility of a Barn Owl. Sure enough, upon closer inspection, we confirmed that the sound was coming from a Canary Island palm tree behind the house with the “respirator.” Then we spotted Barn Owls flying in and out of the tree, pearl white in the dark sky, backlit by the moon, making trip after trip to feed their young.

But not everyone was as enamored with the owls — or their sounds — as I was, and the tree was cut down. I decided to found Keep Barn Owls in Berkeley, with the help of naturalist Joe Eaton and some other owl fans, to create more awareness about the incredible natural pest control services of these owls: one family can consume 600 mice in 10 weeks.

I connected with The Hungry Owl Project in Marin and local owl experts like Golden Gate Audubon field trip leader Dave Quady, and began to get a grasp on the number of Barn Owls this city supports.

I learned of about a dozen pairs nesting in Berkeley alone that year, most in Canary Island palm trees, many of which stand next to Victorians and thus were probably planted in the early 1900s. (I also learned about nests in El Cerrito, Albany, and Richmond, again most of them in Canary Island palms.)

In what may be the least controversial Berkeley city council resolution ever passed, we got the Barn Owl designated as the city’s official bird.

ScienceShot: What Birds Know About Fractal Geometry

Birds, do your math: The pattern of feathers on the chest of your potential mate might provide a good sense of his or her overall health and well-being. In a new study, researchers find that a single number that describes the complexity of those configurations, a parameter called the fractal dimension, is linked to whether a bird has a strong immune system or is malnourished. (Fractals, possibly most well-known from pop art posters of the 1970s, are incredibly complex patterns that have the same amount of detail at all levels of scale, from the huge to the microscopic.) When scientists restricted the food of red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa, inset), the feather patterns (details in main image) on their chests had a lower fractal dimension than those sported by their well-fed colleagues, they report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The food-restricted birds, on average, weighed 13% less than their well-fed colleagues and had weaker immune systems, which makes fractal dimension an easily recognizable sign of a potential mate's health and vitality, the researchers contend. 

See more ScienceShots.

Controversial bird flu research to resume

Bird flu researchers end a yearlong moratorium on experiments to determine whether the H5N1 virus can mutate and spread among humans. The work, which was deemed risky, won't resume yet in the U.S.

Bird flu researchers said Wednesday that they would end a self-imposed moratorium on controversial experiments to determine how the deadly H5N1 virus might mutate and gain the ability to spread easily among humans.

In a statement published online by the journals Science and Nature, 40 scientists said they were poised to resume their investigations — but only in countries that have established clear rules for conducting the research safely. The U.S., which is the largest funder of influenza research, is not yet among those nations.

"We want to resume virus transmission studies because we believe this research is important to pandemic preparedness," said University of Wisconsin virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, one of the scientists whose work prompted biosecurity experts to call for new restrictions on flu research.

There have been only 610 confirmed human cases of bird flu since 2003, but 59% of those people have died. In nature, the virus has very limited ability to spread directly from person to person. Scientists fear that just a few key genetic mutations could change that, creating the pot

First nest ever discovered of one of the world's most endangered birds

Stresemann's Bristlefront nest discovered in Brazil
January 2013. The first known nest of one of the world's rarest birds - the Critically Endangered Stresemann's Bristlefront - has been discovered in Brazil. Of perhaps equal significance is that strong evidence of active nestlings was also found.

Rediscovered in 1995 - May be just 15 birds alive
The Stresemann's Bristlefront is one of the world's most threatened bird species - unrecorded for 50 years until it was rediscovered in 1995 near Una, Bahia, in Brazil's Atlantic Forest region. The world population estimate is fewer than 15 individuals. Its population is declining owing to fires, logging, and the clearance of humid valley-floor forest for cattle ranching and agriculture.

Nest tunnel
On October 30, 2012, Dimas Pioli and Gustavo Malacco, two Brazilian researchers visiting Fundação Biodiversitas' Mata do Passarinho Reserve discovered the bird's nesting tunnel entrance, a tennis ball sized hole, located about three feet from the ground in an exposed dirt vertical edge that contained overhanging vegetation. Nesting tunnels are typical for the ground dwelling Tapaculo family, to which the Bristlefront belongs. The hole is estimated to be approximately six feet deep. It was surveyed and filmed with a micro-camera and further data should be published shortly in an ornithological journal.

Probable chicks
"This is the discovery of a lifetime made all the more gratifying by the fact that not only have we found live adult birds, but we have also found strong evidence of several chicks as well," said Alexandre Enout, the Reserve's Manager. "It is urgent that we protect more of the natural Atlantic Forest in this area and reforest areas where forest has been lost. The best way to save this species is by increasing its potential habitat."

Stresemann's Bristlefront
The 8-inch long, medium-sized, long-tailed bird has distinctive, long, pointed forehead bristles and a slender dark bill. The female is cinnamon-brown above, with duskier tail and is a bright cinnamon-rufous below.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Rare Slavonian grebe found dead in Inverness came from Iceland

"Dead duck" turns out be a scarce visitor from Iceland
January 2013. Local RSPB staff have collected a rare Slavonian grebe which was found dead in Inverness town centre. The bird is believed to have collided with an overhead wire. RSPB conservation manager Stuart Benn said, "We received a call from a traffic warden who said that he had found a dead duck in the town. His attention had been attracted by a ring that was present on the bird's leg. When we arrived we discovered that the bird was, in fact, a Slavonian grebe, a very rare breeding bird in Scotland. However when we checked the ring we found that the bird had been ringed in Iceland.

"This is an interesting discovery as it confirms that some birds from the Icelandic population spend the winter in Scottish waters and that the Moray Firth is important for these grebes as they are for many other species of marine birds."

Found in town centre
The bird was found by the River Ness near the pedestrian bridge that links Kenneth Street to the town centre. Mr Benn said, "Judging by its injuries I suspect the grebe must have flown into an overhead wire or cable. They are beautiful birds and it is very sad to see it in this state."

Brothers guilty of reckless disturbance of Northumberland wildlife sanctuary

Coquet Island is effectively the only place that Roseate terns breed in the whole of the UK. Image credit Chris Gomersall/RSPB images

Roseate tern nesting site disturbed
January 2103. Two brothers from Amble caused illegal disturbance to a rare seabird colony in Northumberland, a court has ruled. Derwick and Leslie Ramsay were found guilty at South East Northumberland Magistrates Court of the reckless disturbance of roseate terns on the bird sanctuary Coquet Island in July 2012.

The pair were prosecuted under the 1981 Country And Wildlife Act, which forbids the intentional and or reckless killing, injuring and disturbance of wild birds. The offence carries a maximum sentence of a £5,000 fine and/or six months in prison.

Caught on CCTV
Derwick Ramsay, together with four other men who were not prosecuted, landed boats on the island on 20 July allegedly to collect whelks. They were warned about the presence of breeding roseate terns by RSPB staff but this was ignored. On 22 July, Derwick returned with his brother Leslie, who was recorded on CCTV disturbing the birds. On returning to Amble marina Derwick and Leslie, together with four other men, were arrested and their boats were seized by Northumbria Police.

The only colony of breeding roseate terns in the UK
Coquet Island holds the only colony of breeding roseate terns in the UK and as a result, landing on the island is strictly prohibited. Roseate terns are a ‘red listed' species of high conservation concern and, as a ground nesting bird, they are particularly vulnerable to human disturbance. At the time of this incident the island held 71 breeding pairs.

Alan Firth, RSPB Investigations officer, said: "Roseate terns are incredibly rare and Coquet Island is effectively the only place they breed in the whole of the UK. Any disturbance to the colony could, therefore, have a disastrous effect on the population.

"The RSPB spends a huge amount of time, money and effort every year to give roseate terns the best chance to breed. This reckless disturbance - that took place despite warnings - threatened to undermine all of the conservation efforts to protect this species.

"We would like to thank Northumbria Police and Crown Prosecution Service Prosecutor Jonathan Moore for their hard work, which helped this case result in a successful prosecution."

Rare birds targeted

A BARWON Heads animal sanctuary boss fears "bird nappers" are pinching rare breeds from across Geelong.

Jirrahlinga Koala and Wildlife Sanctuary director Tehree Gordon said she had about 20 calls from worried residents since Christmas.

In Belmont, a pet shop owner said he had noticed an increase in bird theft with some of his customers having birds stolen from their homes.

Family Pet and Aquarium's Darren Dwyer said he advised people to exercise caution when selling birds privately.

"Put the bird in a cage and bring it into the house," he said. "Don't let people see your aviary. They are coming back at night and stealing them. It's easy money.

"They're mongrels, the thieves."

Mrs Gordon said her own sanctuary was now upping its security and she warned others to do the same.

"Three people in the last week have come to us saying their birds have gone missing from areas including Moolap, Leopold and Herne Hill," Mrs Gordon said.

"Our concern is there may be some type of parrot napper operating in Geelong and selling these birds on the black market.

"We've ramped up our security here, with more CCTV cameras and guard dogs to protect our birds, and I would recommend others secure their birds as well."

Mrs Gordon said the Department of Sustainability and Environment had also been notified.

Birds that have been reported missing included eclectus parrots, sun conyas and alexandrine parrots, she said. "When a bird arrives here now that's obviously been a pet it will be handed to DSE and people who collect birds will need to present photo ID so an investigation can take place if you try to claim something that doesn't belong to you," she said.

A DSE spokesman said the department dealt with the possession of native wildlife without a valid licence and the illegal possession of imported wildlife.

Australian heat wave could lead to mass die-offs of birds

Heat waves can be deadly for birds
January 2013. As the heat wave in Australia continues, many birds may no longer be able to take the heat and large numbers could die as a result, researchers at the Universities of Cape Town and Pretoria warn.

"Heat waves in 2009 and 2010, which did not reach the intensity of the current record-breaking heat wave, led to large die-offs of birds in parts of Australia" says Prof. Andrew McKechnie. Over the last few days, people are beginning to report finding dead birds in their backyards on Twitter. Conditions are likely worsening as the heat wave wears on.

An international research team, led by researchers at the Percy FitzPatrick Instutute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, are investigating how heat waves affect the physiology and behaviour of birds. They are on high alert for reports of impacts of the current Australian heat wave as such events will be valuable for predicting how climate change will affect birds.

Birds lose condition above 35 ºC
A recent study by the team in Southern Africa's Kalahari revealed that on days when temperatures exceeded 35 ºC, a temperature far below those currently being experienced across much of Australia, wild birds began to lose body condition. "At higher temperatures, the demands of keeping cool meant that the bird's ability to forage was compromised and their feeding rate declined as temperatures increased" says Dr. Rowan Martin of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute. These effects could accumulate over a number of days with long-term consequences for populations.

Another study by the team, in collaboration with the University of New Mexico, suggests that at higher temperatures impacts could be more immediate. At temperatures of 45 ºC, and without access to water, the time for hydration levels to drop below thresholds critical for survival could be as short as 4 hours for a 5g bird, or 5.5 hours for a 25 g bird.

Many Australians are putting out extra water for wild birds and other animals which could prove critical to their survival. Ensuring such water dishes are placed in the shade may help further.