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.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Research Documents Lesser Prairie Chickens

Mar. 25, 2013 — Texas Tech University scientists have been at the forefront of research on the lesser prairie chicken (LPC), a prairie grouse native to the West Texas landscape, for more than three decades.

Now their research and that of other universities could be square in the middle of an ongoing debate whether to protect the bird as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to hold another public comment period this spring before voting on the issue Sept. 30.

Along with their Texas based studies on breeding, predation, survival and microclimate, Texas Tech researchers also collected more than a decade's worth of data from New Mexico. Additional research out of Oklahoma and Kansas has indicated lesser prairie chickens have an aversion to tall vertical structures, such as wind turbines and power lines, findings that could affect the oil and gas industry as much as farmers and land owners.

Pieces of the puzzle
The researchers' part of this complicated puzzle is to provide information on the status of the species, not comment on policy, said Clint Boal, professor in the Department of Natural Resources Management and assistant leader of the USGS Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. He has been involved in LPC research since 2007; prior to that, Dave Haukos, a former Texas Tech professor now at Kansas State, had been conducting studies at Texas Tech since the 1980s.

"We don't know exactly where they (the LPC) were 150 years ago," Boal said. "Our estimates are that the entire area they occupied has decreased during the past 100 years -- both the area occupied and the number of lesser prairie chickens has decreased about 90 percent in the past 100 years."

The bird is now found only in restricted areas of five states in the southern Great Plains: Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

What a Bunch of Dodos! Catastrophic Mass Extinction of Birds in Pacific Islands Followed Arrival of First People

Mar. 25, 2013 — Research carried out by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and collaborators reveals that the last region on earth to be colonised by humans was home to more than 1,000 species of birds that went extinct soon after people reached their island homes.

The paper was published today (March 25th) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Almost 4,000 years ago, tropical Pacific Islands were an untouched paradise, but the arrival of the first people in places like Hawaii and Fiji caused irreversible damage to these natural havens, due to overhunting and deforestation. As a result, birds disappeared. But understanding the scale and extent of these extinctions has been hampered by uncertainties in the fossil record.

Professor Tim Blackburn, Director of ZSL's Institute of Zoology says: "We studied fossils from 41 tropical Pacific islands and using new techniques we were able to gauge how many extra species of bird disappeared without leaving any trace."

They found that 160 species of non-passerine land birds (non-perching birds which generally have feet designed for specific functions, for example webbed for swimming) went extinct without a trace after the first humans arrived on these islands alone.

"If we take into account all the other islands in the tropical Pacific, as well as seabirds and songbirds, the total extinction toll is likely to have been around 1,300 bird species," Professor Blackburn added.

Lunar Cycle Determines Hunting Behavior of Nocturnal Gulls

Mar. 27, 2013 — Zooplankton, small fish and squid spend hardly any time at the surface when there's a full moon. To protect themselves from their natural enemies, they hide deeper down in the water on bright nights, coming up to the surface under cover of darkness when there's a new moon instead. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell discovered that this also influences the behaviour of swallow-tailed gulls (Creagrus furcatus), a unique nocturnal species of gull from the Galapagos Islands.

They fitted the birds with loggers and wet/dry sensors which enabled them to see how much time the animals spent at sea at night. Their findings show that the birds' activity was greatest at new moon, in other words the time when the most prey was gathered at the surface of the water. The cycle of the moon therefore also influences the behaviour of seabirds.

The lunar cycle controls the behaviour of various animal species: owls, swallows and bats, for example, align their activity with the phase of the moon to maximise their hunting success. However, marine life is also affected by the moon. Many species of fish hide from their enemies in the depths of the sea during the daytime and only come up to the water's surface in the dark. Known as vertical migration, this phenomenon is additionally influenced by the lunar cycle. The fish thereby avoid swimming on the water's surface at full moon where they would be easy prey. Vertical migration is thus restricted on brighter nights and the animals remain at greater depths. At new moon, on the other hand, the organisms become active and migrate to the surface.

Yet also in the dark of night hunters lie in wait for them -- for instance the swallow-tailed gull Creagrus furcatus from the Galapagos Islands. With eyes that are well adapted to the dark, the gull can see fish below the water's surface even in low light conditions and so does not need the moon as a source of light. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology therefore wanted to find out what effect the lunar cycle had on the hunting behaviour of the gulls.

RSPB Government misses chance to turn up the heat on wildlife criminals

Despite evidence that wildlife crime is a threat to some of our most threatened species, the Government has ignored the advice of a committee of MPs by refusing to provide long-term financial security for the National Wildlife Crime Unit. They have also ignored some simple recommendations to turn up the heat on wildlife criminals in England and Wales. Martin Harper is the RSPB's conservation director. Commenting on the Government's announcement, he said: "Every year threatened species are killed illegally, putting some species at a great risk. Despite ministerial assurances that tackling wildlife crime is a 'core priority' and the Government being given a clear roadmap by a group of MPs on how to tackle wildlife crime, Ministers have ignored these recommendations. The Government's rejection of even simple wildlife crime measures at this crucial time displays a worrying lack of commitment to tackle this significant conservation issue."

In October last year, the Environmental Audit Committee, under the chair of Joan Walley MP, investigated wildlife crime and made recommendations, including securing long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit and tightening up controls on poisons used to kill birds of prey, allowing offences of possession to be linked to tougher sentences. Martin Harper said: "We're also very disappointed by the Government's response to introducing vicarious liability legislation, which would allow landowners to be prosecuted for crimes committed by their employees and make a real difference to tackling bird of prey persecution."

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Good news for most Scottish bird species as numbers increase

The recent harsh winters in 2009 and 2010 may have also had an effect on some of our resident birds such as wrens and robins.

Index of abundance for Scottish terrestrial breeding birds, 1994 to 2011

March 2013. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has released the latest figures tracking the abundance of Scotland's terrestrial breeding birds.

Farmland and woodland birds up, upland birds down
Over the long term, the abundance of terrestrial breeding birds increased by 11% from 1994 to 2011. Farmland and woodland birds have increased (by 12% and 44% respectively) and upland birds have decreased by 11%.

2010 - 2011 mixed results
Between 2010 and 2011, the main findings show that the abundance of all-species, woodland, and farmland terrestrial breeding birds were unchanged overall. However, the upland bird index decreased by 8%. The reasons for changes are not known for certain. Some evidence points towards land use changes as a possible cause. The recent harsh winters in 2009 and 2010 may have also had an effect on some of our resident birds such as wrens and robins.

MPERIAL Truck Rental comes to aid of rare bird

IMPERIAL Logistics group company IMPERIAL Truck Rental recently heeded a call for help from an unusual source – a rare bird facing extinction, the Southern Ground Hornbill.

While species like rhinos, cheetahs and wild dogs get the lion’s share of news headlines, public interest and corporate donations, this special bird is quietly becoming extinct in Africa.

Without conservation intervention, it is projected that the Southern Ground Hornbill will be extinct in as little as 50 years’ time.

IMPERIAL Truck Rental was alerted to the bird’s plight by the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project, a registered non-profit organisation that is working to ensure the survival of the species.

One of its main functions, according to project manager Lucy Kemp, is to harvest, together with partners Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, and transport “doomed second chicks” from the nests of Southern Ground Hornbills around the country.

This work is carried out in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and is now expanding to Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Kemp said: “According to the long-term data collection in the Kruger National Park, one of the factors contributing to the Southern Ground Hornbill’s situation is that it breeds very slowly, with the bird first breeding at around eight years of age, and thereafter, it successfully raises just one chick every nine years.

“Two eggs are laid at each breeding attempt and the parents can only care for one, abandoning the other. The second chick acts as a natural insurance policy to ensure that all the energy put into breeding amounts to something.”

It is this second redundant chick that is the basis of the project’s conservations efforts. “We take them from wild nests to specialised hand-rearing facilities, and they are later reintroduced back into the wild,” added Kemp.

This reintroduction effort aims to restock areas where the birds have become locally extinct (60 percent of their natural range), to halt the decline in their numbers, and slowly work towards rebuilding the population to sustainable levels.”

IMPERIAL Truck Rental donated a vehicle to the project, for use during its busiest time of year.

Endangered garden birds continuing to decline in the UK, RSPB survey shows

Starlings, house sparrows and other threatened garden birds have suffered a further decline in their numbers over the past year, new figures show.

The results from the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch (BGBW),based on half a million people counting birds in their gardens over a weekend in January, also showed an increase in the species that are not commonly seen in back gardens, such as fieldfares and jays, after a freezing start to the year drove them out of the countryside in search of food.

Numbers of starlings, a "red-listed" species of conservation concern which dropped to a record low in last year's birdwatch, declined by a further 16% this year.

House sparrows – also endangered – fell by 17% on 2012 figures, while bullfinches and dunnock numbers also fell, by 20% and 13% respectively. While green finches have declined by nearly 21% since last year.

Martin Harper, the RSPB's conservation director, said: "We know from the many people who take part in Big Garden Birdwatch every year that garden birds are incredibly precious to us and connect us to nature every day … but several of our familiar and best-loved species have been declining at alarming rates over the 34 years that the RSPB has been running the birdwatch and this year's results show a continuing decline."

The starling, famous for its winter "murmurations" involving up to hundreds of thousands of birds, has seen a steady decline in numbers since the BGBW survey began in 1979. Losses have been linked to the loss of traditional, established farming pastures, where experts believe that intensively farmed land makes it more difficult for birds to find their favourite food – the cranefly larvae that live in undisturbed soil.

House sparrows have experienced a rapid recent decline, particularly in urban and suburban environments: greater London lost seven out of 10 sparrows between 1994 and 2001. The causes remain largely unknown, with everything from cats to air pollution being blamed.

"The decline of these two species is part of a long-term trend and nothing to do with the cold weather," said RSPB spokeswoman Wendy Johnson. "Starlings have gone down 82% since we started the survey and house sparrows by 63%. Bullfinches and dunnocks haven't declined overall in the same way as sparrows, starlings and songthrushes, however they are amber-listed species and we are concerned because they have suffered declines this year and over the last few years."


Rare birds recovering from maritime oil spill

One of the world's rarest birds appears to have recovered in numbers after New Zealand's worst-ever maritime environmental disaster, experts announced Wednesday.
Monitoring of the New Zealand dotterel population, which is endangered and estimated to number just 1,700 in the wild, showed birds captured after the oil spill from a Liberian-registered cargo ship in October 2011 had recovered well, according to the Massey University.

About 120 dotterels were in the area when the Rena grounded on the Astrolabe Reef, off the eastern North Island, and 60 were taken into captivity to keep them out of the path of the oil and kept as an "insurance" population.

Relocation of the birds and release elsewhere would have only resulted in them quickly returning to their breeding territories, said a statement from the university.

Independent shorebird ecologist Dr. John Dowding, who had been monitoring the birds since they were released at the end of 2011, said more than three-quarters of the dotterels taken into captivity were alive a year later.

"There were some losses in the first month after release -- probably due to the respiratory condition that killed six birds while they were captive -- but after that survival has been normal, " Dowding said in the statement.

Once dotterels begin breeding, they typically remain at the same site for many years.

"As it was not always possible to catch both birds in a pair, some pairings were disrupted during the pre-emptive capture," he said.

However, most of the survivors were paired and breeding again and numbers at most of the important sites were similar to those before the grounding.

Read more:

Friday, 29 March 2013

Hundreds of dead puffins have washed up on east coast beaches

Hundreds of puffins washed up on the east coast of the UK are likely to have died of starvation as a result of the recent severe weather.
RSPB Scotland said it has taken numerous calls from members of the public about the birds, found on beaches stretching from Aberdeen and Angus down to Northumberland.
It is the worst puffin "wreck" — the death of a large number of seabirds in a single incident — in almost 50 years, the conservation charity said.
Many razorbills and guillemots have also perished, prompting fears about the upcoming seabird breeding season.
Dr Barnaby Smith, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology which is part of the Natural Environment Research Council, said the birds may have been using up all their resources just fighting against the unseasonably cold temperatures and strong easterly winds.

Release of 44 rare birds 'historic'

One of New Zealand's rarest birds has taken to its new home at Bushy Park with a song.

Forty-four of the hihi or stitchbird - 22 male and 22 female - were released into the park yesterday morning to make it one of only three mainland hihi sanctuaries nationwide.

The birds were captured on Tiritiri Matangi island near Auckland last Saturday by a team of 13, including Department of Conservation and Massey University researchers and staff from Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

It's believed there are less than 3500 left in New Zealand.

Around 100 people turned out in the brisk morning air to see the birds released from their transport boxes, including Bushy Park Trust chairwoman Liz Tennet. She said once the birds flew into the bush several of them began to sing.

"It was awesome, and it was such a historic moment as there's only two other places where the hihi have successfully been transposed onto the mainland.

"I think them singing to us like that is a good sign."

The hihi project, which has been led by former trust chairman Allan Anderson, had been underway for about five years.

"Today has been the fruition of the process. We've installed food stations and nesting boxes for them which has been done by volunteers, and we've had to ensure they're able to enter a disease-free environment.

"We had a delay about a year because one of the birds was diagnosed with salmonella, but after some testing we established that wasn't a problem. It still set us back for a while."

Ms Tennet said many Wanganui businesses and individuals had contributed, as had a crown Prince from Abu Dhabi, but more donations would be needed.

RSPB teams up with Ecotricity to protect wildlife

Post Date: 25 March 2013
The RSPB has announced a partnership with Ecotricity to help it install renewable energy in ways that will not harm wildlife. The RSPB, along with other conservation groups, has often been critical of wind farms.

The two organisations say their new partnership will also deepen the link between green energy and nature in other ways, in a mutually supportive manner. The RSPB will use its expertise to help Ecotricity create energy and nature projects that will integrate wildlife habitats into wind, wave, solar, and green gas generation projects.

Ecotricity, in turn, will help the RSPB to realise its ambitious plans for green energy, to improve energy efficiency and by installing electric vehicle charging points at wildlife reserve visitor centres.

Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said: “Protecting wildlife and creating habitats is not just close to our hearts, it is central to what we do. We’re already making green energy to cut the carbon emissions that cause climate change, which in turn impacts habitats and wildlife.

"This partnership takes that one step further, making closer links between nature and green energy."

He described the arrangement as "a long-term strategic partnership that will not only protect wildlife, but develop new habitat creation, and make the RSPB a more integral part of the process of our green energy projects.”

Harry Huyton, RSPB head of energy and climate, said: "Switching to a low carbon economy is one of the defining challenges of our generation. Failure would mean devastation for the world's wildlife, but equally we must ensure that when we develop renewable energy projects we do our best to ensure they do not harm wild species in our countryside."

He said the two organisations had a "common mission, of a renewables revolution in harmony with nature".

Officials hope to finish diesel cleanup before bird migration

By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Mar 20 2013 12:43 pm • Last Updated Mar 20 2013 11:19 pm
A federal official said Wednesday authorities hope to have cleanup of the Willard Bay State Park diesel fuel leak completed in the next two to three weeks to minimize possible impact on the annual springtime bird migration.

"EPA is working with the state to make sure the leak is cleaned up entirely," said Curtis Kimbel, the Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator for the spill response. "It appears we do have the resources to properly clean this up."

Officials of federal, state and local agencies held their first "unified command" meeting Wednesday morning to coordinate efforts to clean up and mitigate the impact of the spill,
An estimated 4,200 to 6,300 gallons of diesel fuel — authorities say they cannot confirm the amount — leaked from a 168-mile Chevron pipeline carrying fuel from Salt Lake City to Idaho.

Diesel spill at Willard Bay much worse than previously thought
Regulators to Chevron: Don’t restart pipeline that closed Willard Bay State Park until we say so.

Chevron’s pipeline already has spit out more than 21,000 gallons of diesel fuel near the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge — three times as much as previously thought and on par with the Red Butte Creek spills three years ago — and there’s probably more to come.
A split in the lengthwise seam of the pipe that carries fuel from Salt Lake City to Spokane. Wash., is suspected of releasing petroleum into soil and marshes at Willard Bay State Park, according to a preliminary probe by the U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The steel pipeline is more than 60 years old.

     On Friday, the agency ordered the Texas-based company not to restart the pipeline until federal authorities approve the fixes — and then only at 80 percent of its normal pressure and under "continuous patrolling" of a 3-mile segment of the pipeline.

"This Corrective Action Order," said the agency directive, "is being issued under [federal law] to require Chevron Pipe Line Co. (Chevron or Respondent) to take the 
necessary corrective action to protect the public, property and the environment from potential hazards associated with the recent failure on Chevron’s #1 Oil line in Willard, Utah."

Local, state and federal officials have been carrying out an emergency cleanup at the site since Tuesday. Their top goal is to remove the diesel before an influx of migrating birds due in the next two to three weeks, although tundra swans, snow geese and pelicans have started arriving.

"It is critical that we work to recover as much of the spilled diesel fuel as possible," said Curtis Kimbel, who is overseeing the cleanup as EPA’s on-scene coordinator. "Now that we have a better picture of the amount of diesel fuel spilled from the pipeline, we can more accurately benchmark the progress of cleanup efforts."

Boy, 10, raises money for endangered birds

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.comTraverse City Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY — Jonah Villanueva loves birds, raptors in particular.

Five years ago, when he was 5, Jonah watched as an eagle was returned to the wild after rehabilitation for an injury. The event was held at the Woodlands School and featured Empire-based raptor sanctuary Wings of Wonder.

Jonah craned his head skyward, fascinated as the eagle soared away, and he’s been hooked on birds of prey ever since.

“The long-eared owl is my favorite,” Jonah said. “They are endangered and are really, really rare, and they are known for their facial features.”

His interest in birds isn’t just restricted to reading and observing. The Traverse City boy also is an advocate for endangered birds.

Today, he’s holding his second fundraiser for Wings of Wonder at the Books-A-Million store off South Airport Road because he believes the organization looks out for the birds he cherishes.

“I’m so very proud of him,” said Jonah’s mother, Melanie Villanueva. “He has a great heart. It’s nice to see him doing something for others as opposed to just himself.”

Jonah’s first fundraiser took place three years ago when he was 7.

He stopped people on the street in front of his family’s home and asked strangers for $1 to pet his dog. He brought in a few bucks and sent the money directly to Wings of Wonder.

“I’d never met this child before, then I get a letter in the mail with a little note and $12 worth of crumpled $1 bills in it,” said Wings of Wonder Director Rebecca Lessard. “He did it totally out of the blue, and that meant so much to me that this child did that.”

Wings of Wonder is an educational organization designed to foster appreciation, understanding, honor and respect for raptors. It is also a raptor rehabilitation and release facility.

Jonah said he will be at Books-A-Million today from noon to 4 p.m. and will speak with anyone who will listen or chat about birds. He’s hoping to collect donations for his favorite nonprofit.

“We need to learn to live differently,” he said. “It really helps the birds.”

Thursday, 28 March 2013

FDA delays approval of GSK bird flu vaccine

LONDON (Reuters) - Regulators have delayed approval of an H5N1 bird flu vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline, designed to be used in a pandemic.

A spokesman for Britain's biggest drugmaker said the delay was not related to recent controversy over links between a similar flu vaccine made by the company and narcolepsy.

Rather, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided it needed more time to assess the product "due to an administrative matter that has recently been rectified", GSK said in a statement on Monday.

"GSK and the FDA are actively working together to complete the review in a timely manner," it added.

There is growing evidence of a link between GSK's earlier H1N1 flu vaccine, Pandemrix, and an increase in narcolepsy cases among children who received it in Europe - a fact which has raised questions as to whether the FDA should approve the similar H5N1 product.

Both vaccines contain AS03, a new adjuvant, or booster, that turbo-charges the body's immune response to a vaccine.

A 14-member panel of advisers to the FDA voted unanimously in November to recommend the H5N1 vaccine to protect against bird flu. The panel considered early studies from Europe showing an increase in the number of narcolepsy cases but concluded that the potential benefit of the vaccine outweighed the risk.

Since then, however, new data, including study results from Britain, suggest the scale and strength of the narcolepsy link to Pandemrix during the 2009-10 H1N1 swine flu pandemic could be greater than first thought.

Officials at the FDA were not immediately available to comment on the case.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing Keith Weir)

BirdLife Critically Endangered birds needlessly killed in Kuwait

As regular readers of the RSPB Saving Species blog will know, the RSPB has been supporting work on the Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwing since 2005, and from 2011 has been acting as co-ordinator for the implementation of the International Single Species Action Plan for the species under a Memorandum of Cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Secretariat of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). We know from extensive research between 2004 and 2012 that Sociable Lapwings are declining due to low adult survival, which is almost certainly caused by being shot during migration. There is evidence from known stopover sites in northeastern Syria and some areas in Iraq from 2008 and 2009 that these birds are widely hunted by both locals and visiting falconers from the Gulf States.

The latest reports from the region are the first to confirm the killing of Sociable Lapwings in Kuwait. The birds appear to have been shot on 12th March. Tim Stowe, the RSPB's Director of International Operations, says: "Regrettably, this is the first confirmed hunting of Sociable Lapwings in Kuwait, and this latest information is of particular concern as these birds were returning to Kazakhstan where they would have started to breed in six weeks' time."

Read on: 

Okhla bird sanctuary under threat

How video’s eagle eye helps protect rare birds from egg thieves

Published on Saturday 23 March 2013 00:01
VIDEO surveillance and satellite tracking are being used to tackle rogue egg hunters who are preying on some of Britain’s rarest species of birds in Yorkshire.

Police and enforcement officers from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have been sharing intelligence after evidence emerged that offenders are travelling from across the country to raid the nests of birds in the region.

Many egg hunters are also embroiled in other criminal activity, including drug dealing, to help finance their time-consuming searches for the nests of rare birds which often involve travelling long distances across the country.

North Yorkshire, which is home to species including red kites, peregrine falcons and ospreys, is one of the worst blackspots in the country for offences, according to the charity.

RSPB officials say they are employing increasingly sophisticated technology to hunt down egg collectors who are continuing to flout tougher laws, with jail terms of up to six months for offenders. Video surveillance is being used to monitor nests, while satellite tracking devices fitted to birds are helping to trace their movements to nesting sites.

An RSPB spokesman said: “While many of these species are showing signs of recovery, they do remain threatened and egg collectors are a very real problem.

“We do have close links with police and we are increasingly turning to new technology to help monitor birds’ nests. Offenders are continuing to operate across the country, but Yorkshire is a particular concern because of the number of species which live there and we are having to remain especially vigilant in the region.”

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority confirmed yesterday that efforts are underway to protect a pair of peregrine falcons which attract thousands of visitors every year to Malham Cove. Peregrines started nesting at the cove 20 years ago and have since raised more than 40 offspring.

Read more:

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Rare bird gets peg leg after losing limb in golf accident

A sandhill crane, a rare sight in the Lower Mainland, is standing up again after losing a leg in an accident at a Richmond, B.C., golf course.

Elizabeth Melnick, who runs a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation centre in Abbotsford, said the bird's leg was shattered in early March when it was struck by a stray golf ball.

'He's unusually tame for a wild bird.'—Dr. Ken MacQuisten

"The crane was brought in because he was hit by a golf ball and his lower leg was shattered, so the vet, Dr. Ken MacQuisten, tried to see if it would work possibly with surgery," she said.

"It just wasn't a go. So [MacQuisten] decided to amputate the lower leg and now he's getting a prosthesis put in."

MacQuisten said the leg was badly broken and the limb had died by the time the crane was captured.

"It took about five days to catch him and bring him into the veterinary hospital. So, we had to amputate the foot and now we've fitted him with a prosthesis so that he can balance and walk with it," MacQuisten said.

This juvenile sandhill crane is about the size of a great blue heron. (CBC)

MacQuisten fitted the bird with a temporary limb for now. He says a permanent prosthetic leg will be attached once the stump is fully healed.

According to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta, sandhill cranes typically migrate through the central prairies and winter in the southern U.S. states, and in B.C. some cranes pass through the central interior.

But a small number of sandhill cranes have been living in the Lower Mainland after a pair of captive-hatched birds were released in the area over 30 years ago. The tame birds never reproduced, but they did attract wild sandhill cranes to settle in the region.

In the 27 years Melnick has been running her shelter, she has never come across one before.
MacQuisten also said the crane was a rare subject to work with for other reasons.

"This is a very unusual patient," MacQuisten said. "He's unusual in the sense that there are very few sandhill cranes in the Lower Mainland, here, but he's unusually tame for a wild bird," MacQuisten said.

"He makes a great subject to see if we can do something to help him with the ultimate goal of sending him back out onto the golf course."

Starving refuge of water will result in bird deaths

Like last year, folks really enjoyed and supported birds during Winter Wings Festival. Great!
Like last year, reduced water deliveries (combined with previous years of water cutbacks) have many Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge marshes nearly dry, or completely dry. The highly likely 2013 result will be another major disease outbreak, killing tens of thousands of water birds.

Now is the time for people who enjoy birds to act: Contact the Bureau of Reclamation. Next, contact our federal senators and ask for more water for the refuge.

Over the last several years, BOR has cut refuge water deliveries — including in one year with higher than average water supplies. Wetland habitat has greatly decreased year after year and 2013 is shaping up to be another bad disease year thanks to BOR reducing water to the already minimal acreage of refuge marshes.

Last spring’s big die off (memory is it was more than 30,000 birds) is highly likely to be repeated due to overcrowding. Since these are breeders heading north to create the next crop of birds, killing them off for lack of water is such a waste, a travesty.

Enjoy hunting? Enjoy birding? Enjoy Winter Wings? It is time to step up. Tell BOR that continued starvation of the Lower Klamath Refuge is completely unacceptable. And since BOR listens more to U.S. senators than to us locals, call or email U.S. senators, too. It might help. At least when the dead birds pile up, we know we tried.

Dave Potter
Klamath Falls

Nature Versus Nurture: Better Looking Birds Have Healthier Babies, Finds Study of Great Tits

Mar. 25, 2013 — A female great tits' (Parus major) appearance is shown to signal healthy attributes in offspring in a paper in BioMed Central's open access journal Frontiers in Zoology. The black stripe across her breast and white patches on her cheeks correlate to a chick's weight at two weeks and immune strength respectively -- though the former seems to signal a genetic benefit and the latter can affect an 'adopted' chick's health, suggesting nurture is involved.

Taking two mothers with different patterning, and swapping their chicks, researchers from Palacky University in the Czech Republic were able to investigate the growth and health of the infants and the 'ornamentation' of their mothers. They compared the offspring's weight, size and immune strength and found a correlation between the chick's weight at two weeks and the size of black breast stripe on the genetic mother.

The immaculateness of both genetic and foster mother's white cheek patch was related to the strength of chick's immune response suggesting that this was due to both nurture and genetics. In contrast the body size of a chick was related only to the body size of its genetic mother and not to ornamentation at all.

In these socially monogamous birds both the males and females are brightly coloured, however neither the cheek patch nor the stripe in males affected the health of the babies.

Talking about how the ornaments can have evolved to signal reproductive fitness, Vladimír Remeš and Beata Matysioková who performed this study explained, "Bigger healthier babies are important to the reproductive success of individuals, because they are more likely to survive to adulthood -- so it is useful for birds to be able to work out which potential mates will produce the best babies. Maintaining bright colouration uses up resources which could otherwise be invested in reproduction or self-maintenance -- consequently the evolution and maintenance of ornamentation in female great tits is probably due to direct selection by males."

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

UF fossil bird study on extinction patterns could help today’s conservation efforts

Thursday, March 21, 2013.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new University of Florida study of nearly 5,000 Haiti bird fossils shows contrary to a commonly held theory, human arrival 6,000 years ago didn’t cause the island’s birds to die simultaneously.

Although many birds perished or became displaced during a mass extinction event following the first arrival of humans to the Caribbean islands, fossil evidence shows some species were more resilient than others. The research provides range and dispersal patterns from A.D. 600 to 1600 that may be used to create conservation plans for tropical mountainous regions, some of the most threatened habitats worldwide. Understanding what caused recent extinctions – whether direct habitat loss or introduction of invasive species — helps researchers predict future ecological impacts. The study was published online in The Holocene March 12 and is scheduled to appear in the journal’s print edition in July.

“People arrive about 6,000 years ago and within a millennium or two, you lose the big, spectacular critters — the ground sloths, the monkeys, the biggest rodents and some of the big extinct birds, like giant owls and eagles,” said lead author David Steadman, ornithology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “We have some bird species from our fossil site that, from a modern standpoint, are just as extinct as the others, but in fact, they almost were able to survive longer. That helps give us a gauge on what the future might bring.”

Researchers used comparisons with modern bones to identify 23 species from the 4,857 bird fossils excavated from Trouing Jean Paul, a cave in southeast Haiti at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. The most common bird species include the Zenaida Dove, the Black Swift, the Least Pauraque, the Hispaniolan woodpecker and a new, undescribed extinct woodcock in the genus Scolopax. Researchers believe the woodcock became extinct between A.D. 1350 and 1800, surviving the first arrival of the Amerindians 6,000 years ago, but dying off following the arrival of Europeans and African peoples in 1492, Steadman said.

“When you take a look at what could’ve caused this, it really does just keep pointing to humans,” Steadman said. “I just think it’s habitat loss from people and introduction of non-native, invasive plants and animals. It’s the same thing we’re dealing with in Florida now — who knows what the pythons are going to wipe out in the Everglades.”

Researchers radiocarbon-dated six individual bones from the extinct woodcock to determine the site’s age. Because the locality also includes fossils of frogs, lizards, snakes, bats and rodents, in addition to the Common Barn Owl and Ashy-faced Owl, it was likely a roost where owls deposited boney pellets of their prey, scientists said.

Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern conservation vital so saving the species

Restoring a breeding colony for Chinese Crested Tern - Courtesy of Birdlife

Chinese Crested Tern (Sterna bernsteini) faces
 greater threat of extinction than China's Giant Panda. 
Credit Chen Lin/
March 2013. In early March, an international workshop in Xiangshan, Zhejiang Province, China, marked the start of an ambitious plan to restore a network of breeding sites for the Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern Sterna bernsteini, probably the world's most threatened seabird.

Rediscovered in 2004 - Eggs destroyed by typhoon and thieves
After more than half a century with no breeding records, four adults and four chicks were discovered in 2000 on the Mazu Islands (administered by Taipei) off the coast of China's Fujian Province. In 2004 another colony was found in the Jiushan Islands, off Zhejiang Province, but breeding failed after two typhoons hit the islands. No breeding birds were seen in the Jiushans until 2007, when eight Chinese Crested Terns and about 2,000 Greater Crested Terns returned. But the colony was raided by egg poachers, and terns have not nested there since.

New colony
In 2008 a new colony, believed to be the birds that nested earlier on the Jiushans, was discovered in the Wuzhishan Islands, 80 km to the north. They have returned to nest on the Wuzhishans annually, but nesting space has become limited, and the terns have started using less favourable sites. News of the terns has spread, increasing the risk of disturbance from photographers.

Falcons 'rapidly evolved' hunting skills

By Ella Davies Reporter, BBC Nature

Falcons rapidly evolved their renowned hunting skills, a study has found.

Scientists from Cardiff University have sequenced the genome of peregrine and saker falcons for the first time.

Research revealed that compared with other species, these birds of prey have been subjected to fierce competition and pressures, leading them to adapt quickly in order to survive.

Investigation of the genes responsible for the birds' unique beaks highlighted this rapid development.

The name falcon comes from the Latin word falco, meaning hook shaped and refers to the birds' strongly curved beaks.

"We have been able to determine that specific genes, regulating beak development, have had to evolve to withstand the pressure of impacting their prey at a speed of up to 300 kilometres an hour," explained Professor Mike Bruford, who authored the paper published in the journal Nature Genetics.

"The shape of the falcon beak has also had had to evolve to be capable of tearing at the flesh of its prey."

Webcam captures secrets of endangered birds

Live stream set up in Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve will help experts study the snowy plover and California least tern.
By Anthony Clark Carpio
March 20, 2013 | 3:34 p.m.

He didn't expect to be staring at his computer screen for hours on end, but Brian Pavloff caught himself doing just that.

Pavloff, president of Variable Speed Solutions in Huntington Beach, had just finished working on a web camera project for the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Even before it started broadcasting live online on March 11, he couldn't help but stop and stare at his screen.

"I never watch webcams in any length. And then after this project, all of a sudden I find it sitting next to me at night and I can't look away and I'm constantly going back to it," he said. "It's gotten to the point where my wife is telling me, 'Get off the webcam!' And I tell her that I'm only looking at birds."

The birds he's looking at are the western snowy plover and in a month's time, he will be also be looking at the California least tern. They are listed as two of the state's endangered bird species.

And for the first time, these birds will be under the careful watch of a camera, recording all of their nesting habits until the summer. The footage will then be used by researchers and universities to come up with better ways to help these birds get off the endangered species list, said Jayson Ruth, a board member of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust.

"It's fabulous for people all over the world that are interested in these endangered birds," said Mayor Connie Boardman, who is also a board member of the land trust.

Ruth, who is also a science teacher at Huntington Beach High School, has spearheaded this project from the beginning and after seven months has seen it go from an idea to reality.

"It's the first of its kind. Nobody's ever filmed long-term studies of the plovers or the terns," Ruth said. "It's not just a nest camera; it's really a nest site. We're filming an entire colony. We have the remote capability to film the nesting sites. We can zoom in on a nest when they form."