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, 30 November 2015

Lead poisons '100,000 birds annually'

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News

About 100,000 wetland birds are killed every year from poisoning by discarded lead ammunition, say scientists.

The report also suggests that the consumption of game shot with lead ammunition has a greater impact on human health than previously thought.

Scientists involved in the research say the evidence now supports a ban on the use of lead ammunition in the UK.

The report is a collection of research presented by experts who gathered at the Oxford Symposium on Lead ammunition last year. It includes findings from studies carried out by university academics and by conservation groups including the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the RSPB.

As well as the impacts of lead on the environment, researchers have investigated the effects on human health of consuming game containing traces of lead ammunition.

Lord Krebs, emeritus professor of zoology at the University of Oxford, and former chair of the UK Food Standards Agency, told BBC News that there was "an overwhelming body of evidence" that lead used in hunting was "a risk both to humans and to wildlife".

"On that basis," he told BBC News. "The advice would be that lead shot should be phased out."

White mockingbird frequenting Little Rock yard isn’t albino, but it’s striking nonetheless

Posted: November 9, 2015 at 5:45 a.m.

Credit: Courtesy of Kathy Aday
When it first showed up in her yard in Little Rock, Kathy Aday's neighbors didn't know what to make of the ghostly white bird.

Was it an exotic winged species from another country or an escapee from the zoo?

It was shaped like a very common bird in Arkansas, in fact, the most common backyard variety, a Northern mockingbird. The mockingbird is so common in the region it is the state bird for Arkansas and three adjacent states.

Besides the right silhouette, the bird that was flitting about in Aday's area, Rivercrest Drive in Walton Heights, had the edgy behavior and the chirps and slender body, but its color was all wrong. Mockingbirds are typically gray with light underparts.

This one had pearly white feathers with dark legs, bill and eyes.

Aday was out of town when a neighbor sent her the photograph. The photo was shared on social media by her neighborhood association, and eventually found its way to Dan Scheiman, bird conservation director for Audubon Arkansas. Scheiman identified it as a Northern mockingbird.

Borders estates have bird control licences removed

 17:00Thursday 05 November 2015

Two Borders properties, Raeshaw Estates and Corsehope Farm, have had their general licences to control wild birds suspended by Scottish Natural Heritage.

This is the first time the conservation body has taken such action and the two Borders properties, both north of Stow, where joined by two estates in Stirlingshire, whose licences were also suspended based on evidence provided by Police Scotland.

Nick Halfhide, SNH director of operations, said: “There is clear evidence that wildlife crimes have been committed on these properties. Because of this, and the risk of more wildlife crimes taking place, we have suspended the general licences on these four properties for three years.

“They may though still apply for individual licences, but these will be closely monitored.

“This measure should help to protect wild birds in the area, while still allowing necessary land management activities to take place, albeit under tighter supervision.

“We consider that this is a proportionate response to protect wild birds in the area and prevent further wildlife crime.”

General licences allow landowners or land managers to carry out actions which would otherwise be illegal, including controlling common species of wild birds to protect crops or livestock, for the conservation of wild birds and for the preservation of public health and public safety.

Which Are London's Commonest Birds?

These are the birds most regularly spotted in London's gardens. We've shown them in relative proportion. So, for example, blackbirds (centre-right) are roughly four times as common as jays (bottom-right). Most common of all are the woodpigeons (trooping across the top of the image), closely followed by the plucky house sparrow, whose numbers are nevertheless in decline.

The image is based on the most recent Big Garden Birdwatch, an annual survey of the nation's avian populations. The survey data is for the whole of Greater London, not just the centre, and is based on thousands of observations by Londoners. 

Here they are in order of abundance (roughly top to bottom in the image).

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Large range of birds 'thriving on shooting estates'

Studies find 81 species on three Scottish grouse moors, including eagles and hen harriers

By Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent
11:54AM GMT 25 Nov 2015

Scotland’s shooting estates are supporting a “vast range” of bird species, according to a study of three prominent grouse moors.

A total of 81 species have been found breeding or feeding on land managed by gamekeepers, with some birds that are in decline elsewhere apparently making a comeback on heather moorland.

The birds identified include golden plover, black grouse, ring ouzel, golden and white-tailed eagles, peregrine falcons and hen harriers. One estate also recorded a significant rise in cuckoo numbers.

A report by the Scottish Moorland Group looked at wildlife audits on three properties and forms part of the year-long “gift of grouse” campaign which is designed to highlight the benefits that moorland management delivers, according to those involved.

Starlings mysteriously drowning en masse in garden ponds

Bird experts are baffled about why starlings are drowning mysteriously in ponds
25 Nov 2015

Starlings are mysteriously drowning en masse in garden ponds across Britain.

Renowned for flying in enormous flocks - sometimes more than one million strong - they have been observed in recent years to perish in groups of 10 or more.

Now researchers are trying to work out what's behind the phenomenon.

Conservationists believe the "inexperience" of young birds in negotiating water - along with their friendly nature - could be behind the mystery.

They have suggested homeowners supply sloping exits or ramps in water features so the vulnerable birds can get in and out safely.

Experts say it is unusual for wild birds to drown and on the occasions it happens normally involves an individual rather than multiple numbers.

'Grounded' storks fly again one year after power lines crash

A group of rescued storks, which were never expected to fly again after hitting power lines, have made a "miraculous" recovery.

Twenty-two of the birds arrived in the UK from Poland after breaking their wings in the accident a year ago.

After regaining enough strength to undergo operations, three were able to take flight again this week.

Shorelands Wildlife Gardens, Norfolk, hopes it will be able to reintroduce the species to England.

Ben Potterton, Shorelands' owner, said: "For a bird to hit a power line, fall to the ground, have all that trauma and veterinary care and then fly again is miraculous.

"They're soaring around as we would expect them to do."

Mr Potterton said it was hoped the wounded birds could breed in captivity, and any chicks introduced to the wild.

American Samoa's Manu'a bird population studied

Updated at 8:59 am on 18 November 2015

A team from American Samoa's Department of Marine and Wildlife resources is heading to the Manu'a islands to conduct a survey of the native bird population.

Ornithologist Kim Kayano, who is leading the six-person team, says studying the bird population will also give researchers an idea of the health of other organisms.

She says there is evidence that invasive bird species have forced a decline in the native population on the main island, Tutuila.

"We found that birds in Tutuila are much less abundant than the ones on Manu'a and so we're still trying to find out why that is, but human population size, urban development, as well as the presence of invasive species, we think, are factors in the less birds that are found on Tutuila."

Friday, 27 November 2015

Graduate students explore the effect climate change has on local bird populations

By Aaron Hilf — November 17, 2015

Two University of New Mexico alumni have discovered that our changing climate is having a serious impact on population size and reproductive success of several bird species found around Albuquerque. Corrie Borgman and Kirsten Cruz-McDonnell graduated with master’s degrees from UNM’s Department of Biology in 2015, using this research for their theses.

The longtime friends had been looking into the connection for years before coming to UNM. The pair worked for the nonprofit, Envirological Services, and were contracted by the federal government to monitor and study the wildlife at Kirtland Air Force Base.

For years, Borgman and Cruz-McDonnell collected data on two bird species, the loggerhead shrike and the burrowing owl. They looked at population size as well as several reproductive factors, like nest success, the number of nests formed, the amount chicks hatched, and the timing of reproductive activity. After completing several reports for the Air Force, the two started noticing the impact their work could have.

Invasion of the BIRDS: Thousands of pigeons plague community

A QUIET street has been turned into a real-life version of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror film The Birds after being plagued by thousands of pigeons.

PUBLISHED: 16:37, Fri, Nov 6, 2015 | UPDATED: 17:31, Fri, Nov 6, 2015

A quiet British street has been turned into a real life version of Alfred Hitchcock's horror film The Birds after being plagued by thousands of pigeons.

Residents on Court Road in Sparkhill, Birmingham, are calling on the council to start fining people who feed the birds.

Thousands of pigeons flock to the street, which overlooks a local park, every day - covering the pavement, cars and residents, with droppings.

Shocking pictures show the birds completely covering the roofs of rows of terraced houses as they wait for people to come and feed them.

Birmingham City Council have placed signs in the area urging residents to "Stop feeding pigeons!".

Rogue emu netted after two months on the run

No one has claimed the emu and it's unknown where the bird came from before it was on the lam

By Arman Aghbali, CBC News Posted: Nov 13, 2015 5:22 PM ET Last Updated: Nov 13, 2015 7:57 PM ET

After scaring a nearby school and being shot at by a stranger, a fugitive emu has finally been caught by police and animal control in Delaware after at least 66 days on the run.

On Thursday afternoon animal control officers and Delaware State Police surrounded the 1.8-metre-tall bird, known to locals only as Eddie, near a housing development in Stonefield. 

"The emu is very happy. It's very content," Dan Stonebraker told CBC News. Stonebraker owns the 3 Palms Zoo & Education Centre in Clayton and often assists in capturing loose animals.

It took three tries to capture the bird, and on the second escape, Eddie jumped into a man's backyard. Once they had the bird cornered along the backyard fence, co-owner of the 3 Palms Zoo, Matt Shaffner, threw a net over the animal. 

"I've seen on the news that there was an emu on the loose, but I didn't suspect it was around here,"  Tom Curley told CBS Philadelphia, after they caught the bird in the woods behind his house. 

Stonebraker helped move Eddie into the trailer and has transferred the bird to a secure facility. He described that once the bird was surrounded by four walls and a blanket, it immediately calmed down.

To feed or not to feed: Researchers engage citizen scientists in reducing bird-window collisions

Date: November 19, 2015
Source: University of Alberta

Getting in touch with nature in an urbanized world can be as simple as putting a bird feeder in your backyard. However, what are the potential consequences of this act? Bird-window collisions are one of the largest threats facing urban bird populations in Canada. A new study out of the University of Alberta engages citizen scientists to determine the effects of feeders on bird-window collisions.

Despite the popularity of feeding wild birds, the effects of bird feeders and year-round feeding on birds have not been well documented, particularly in relationship to bird-window collisions. "Backyard bird feeders create an important link between humans and nature," says Justine Kummer, a graduate student at the University of Alberta and lead author of the study, the first ever to manipulate bird feeders at actual residential houses. "Improving the relationship between the general public and nature can promote biodiversity and conservation. We are working to find successful ways to reduce bird-window collisions, beneficial not only for birds but also for the millions of people who feed them."

In Canada, it is estimated that up to 42 million birds die each year from collisions with windows, with residential homes accounting for 90% of building-related mortality. Trials were conducted on 55 windows at 43 residences in Edmonton and the surrounding area. Homeowners were asked to search their study window daily for evidence of bird-window collisions. Though there were 94 reported collisions with the presence of a bird feeder, there were also 51 collisions in cases when no feeder was present, meaning there is no black and white answer. Twenty-six of the windows never experienced a collision during the study, showing that some houses are more at risk than others, regardless of the presence of the feeder.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Many hands make light work and improve health, researchers have found

Date: November 18, 2015
Source: University of Exeter

Getting help with baby care could keep families healthier and extend their lives, according to a new study into bird behaviour.

Research into weaver birds in South Africa, carried out at the University of Exeter and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that a heavy breeding workload led to increased free radical damage to cells, which can be associated with aging and ill health. However, where birds were in larger groups and the workload was shared, no increase in cell damage was found.

The team studied cooperative white-browed sparrow weaver birds in the Kalahari Desert during their breeding season and compared groups of birds that were not breeding with others that were raising chicks.

In the three weeks after hatching, adult birds work feverishly to bring chicks food and as a result they grow to 40 times their original size. Meanwhile, non-breeding birds live a life of relative leisure, with no hungry mouths to feed.

"We investigated oxidative stress, which occurs when free-radicals cause damage to cells. Antioxidants usually prevent this damage, but during hard work, free-radicals can overwhelm antioxidant protection," said lead researcher Dominic Cram, who is now based at the University of Cambridge.

"We found that the birds that were feeding nestlings often had weaker antioxidant defences and suffered from oxidative stress. However, in large groups where many birds assist with nestling care, the birds showed stronger antioxidants and lower free radical damage. So in larger groups many hands appear to have made light work."

Rome enlists Texan falcons to tackle problem of starling droppings

Cars, streets and the odd pedestrian have been showered with faeces

Rome is hoping five Texan falcons will be able scare away the thousands of starlings that are showering cars, streets, and the odd pedestrian with their droppings.

Along the banks of the River Tiber, in particular, where the huge flocks congregate in the trees, stationary cars and bikes are often covered in their faeces. Roads are left slippery and treacherous.

So serious is the problem that the city’s authorities are resorting to the falcons to deter the starlings from massing in the city, to which they are attracted as a safe place to roost. 

Sabrina Alfonsi, president of Rome’s central municipality, said a three-day trial of the birds of prey proved successful, so she is now looking to continue with the deterrent.

For the birds: Whether you're territorial, a girlfriend stealer or a cross dresser, it's in your genes

Date: November 16, 2015
Source: University of Sheffield

Whether you're territorial, a girlfriend stealer, or a cross dresser -- when it comes to finding a partner, scientists have discovered that for some birds it's all in the genes.

Individual animals usually exhibit flexibility in their behaviour, but some behaviours are genetically determined.

Using genome sequencing, researchers from the University of Sheffield have now identified the genes that determine the striking mating behaviour of the males of a wading bird known as the ruff.

The ruff has a 'lek' mating system, which means males of the species gather together and invest all of their energy into attracting females to mate with them, and none into parental care.

Within this specific mating system three distinct breeding behaviour types are easily identifiable.

• Territorial breeding males have spectacular plumes around their neck (which is why these birds are called ruffs) and head, and vary enormously in colouration so that each male is distinguishable.
• Nonterritorial so-called 'satellite' males, which are distinguishable by their white feathers, concentrate on stealing mates from the territorial displaying males.
• A third type of male, which is thought of as a 'cross-dresser', mimics females. They are able to hide from other males in the lek, so avoiding territorial aggression, and succeed by effectively stealing mates from the resident males.

The new study, by an international team including researchers from the University of Sheffield, Simon Fraser University (Canada), and the University of Edinburgh, published in Nature Genetics, shows that the three distinct breeding behaviour types are encoded by a 'supergene' -- a section of a chromosome containing a hundred or more genes.

Climate change sends wildlife north, giving UK a species boost

Climate change is generally viewed as bad news. But, as Philip Bowern reports, the RSPB have shown this week that it is bringing new species to the UK.

No conservation body is welcoming changes to our climate through global warming. The RSPB, which yesterday released an important new report “The nature of climate change” is no exception. It warns in the introduction that climate change is one of the greatest long term threats to the nature we love and that it is putting out wildlife at risk.

But it also reports how wildlife is responding to climate change across Europe – and how species once thought of as rare or even unheard of in the UK are colonising our shores.

The RSPB scientists report: “Species are rapidly colonising new areas, as we would expect under climate change. Since 1900, at least 120 species have colonised the UK. Small red-eyed damselflies, first recorded in 1999, have spread through much of England; and spectacular birds like black-winged stilts and cattle egrets have bred in the UK”.

But it is not all good news, the report warns. “Wildlife is moving northwards and uphill due to climate change,” it says. “As the climate changes, wildlife tracks suitable conditions. In Finland, 48 species of butterfly have moved 37 miles (60 km) north between 1992 and 2004. Yet wildlife will only be able to track suitable climate if there is enough suitable habitat available. One third of Europe’s bumblebees could lose 80% of their range by 2100.”

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

One very brainy bird

Study finds pigeons uncommonly good at distinguishing cancerous from normal breast tissue

Date: November 18, 2015
Source: University of Iowa

If pigeons went to medical school and specialized in pathology or radiology, they'd be pretty good at distinguishing digitized microscope slides and mammograms of normal from cancerous breast tissue, according to a new study from the University of Iowa and the University of California, Davis.

With some training and selective food reinforcement, pigeons performed as well as humans in categorizing digitized slides and mammograms of benign and malignant human breast tissue, the researchers found. The pigeons were able to generalize what they had learned, so that when the researchers showed them a completely new set of normal and cancerous digitized slides, they correctly identified them. Their accuracy, like that of humans, was modestly affected by the presence or absence of color in the images, as well as by degrees of image compression. The pigeons also learned to correctly identify cancer-relevant micro calcifications on mammograms, but they had a tougher time classifying suspicious masses on mammograms -- a task considered difficult even for skilled human observers, the authors noted in the paper, published online on Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

"These results go a long way toward establishing a profound link between humans and our animal kin," said Edward Wasserman, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the UI and study co-author. "Even distant relatives -- like people and pigeons -- are adept at perceiving and categorizing the complex visual patterns that are presented in pathology and radiology images, surely a task for which nature has not specifically prepared us."

New Taipei Wild bird midway house releases 3 crested serpent eagles

2015/11/17 14:12:48

Spilornis cheela (Bandipur, 2008).jpgNew Taipei, Nov. 17 (CNA) Three crested serpent eagles have been released into the wild by the Midway House of Wild Birds of New Taipei City after being treated and rehabilitated by veterinarians for nearly a month, a New Taipei agricultural official said Tuesday.

New Taipei Agriculture Department Commissioner Li Wen (李玟) said the three injured birds of prey were rescued by people from mountainous parts of Sindian and Sansia in October.

After being treated by veterinarians in the Agriculture Department's animal protection office, the birds were sent to the wild birds midway house for flight and hunting training.

Set up by the animal protection office, the Midway House of Wild Birds has four large cages for wild birds and five for raptors on a 600-square-meter property.

Li invited Liang Chieh-te (梁皆得), director of the documentary "The Phantom of the Forest -- the Black Eagle," to witness the release of the three raptors, and took the opportunity to recommend the 43-minute documentary, which will premiere on Nov. 20.

Bird Notes: Peregrine numbers down across Wales

14:00, 17 NOV 2015
UPDATED 14:17, 17 NOV 2015

Provisional results of the latest nest survey last week find the birds numbers were down 12% since 2002

Peregrines are a flagship success for bird conservation.

Numbers crashed in the 1950s, principally because organochlorine pesticides in their food chain resulted in thinner eggshells and thus many nests failed.

A pesticide ban and increased nest protection helped Peregrine numbers to increase, but even by the early 1970s, there were just a handful of pairs on Anglesey and none at all nested in northeast Wales.

Over the next 40 years, they spread along sea cliffs and started to nest on built structures, such as Wrexham police station.

Last week the provisional results of the latest nest survey were published, finding Peregrine numbers were down 12% in Wales since 2002, to fewer than 250 pairs - reduced food supply is thought to be the main driver of the change.

High winds have pushed seabirds inshore: Little Gulls were off Bardsey and the Glaslyn estuary, a late Leach’s Petrel was at Criccieth and a Sooty Shearwater off Bardsey.

Two Great Northern Divers sought shelter in Holyhead Bay, nine were off Porth Ysgaden and another two off the Little Orme. Whooper Swans at RSPB Conwy and on Llanrwstfloodwater and a Common Scoter on Abergele’s Pentre Mawr lake were all unusual.

A Scaup remains on Parc Eirias boating lake, not deterred by last week’s fireworks, and the Great Grey Shrike continues its stay at Llyn Du near Porthmadog.

Godwit wins second poll to become Dutch national bird

Society November 18, 2015    

GodwitThe black-tailed godwit (grutto) has been voted the Netherlands’ national bird by bird protection group Vogelbescherming and radio show Vroege Vogels (early birds). 

The blackbird took second place in the online poll and the common sparrow was third. In total, 41,699 people took part in the vote, with the godwit, a migratory wader, taking 25% of the vote. Some 85% of the godwit population breed in the Netherlands, making it rightly the country’s national bird, Vogelbescherming spokesman Kees de Pater told the Telegraaf. 

‘Within Amsterdam’s boundaries, more godwits breed than in Britain and France together.’

Read more at 

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Trindade Petrel Bird Makes First Visit To Bermuda

November 17, 2015 | 2 Comments

A visiting group of seabird enthusiasts photographed a Trindade Petrel — the first time the species has been recorded in Bermuda – and in an interesting coincidence, one of the group happened to be wearing a t-shirt depicting a Trindade Petrel bird.

The Cahow flying with the Trindade Petrel 
The Bermuda Audubon Society has been running Cahow fieldtrips this month and has assisted with the groups that seabird expert Bob Flood has been bringing to Bermuda for several years.

Last week while off the South Shore looking for Cahows [Bermuda Petrels], they also saw a Trindade Petrel.

Andrew Dobson, president of the Bermuda Audubon Society said, “It was a dream for them to see this bird.

“One of the group, Kate Sutherland was even wearing a t-shirt depicting a Trinidade Petrel – somewhat prophetic!

“It is a rare gadfly petrel like our Cahow with a world population estimated to be anywhere between 1,100 to 15,000 birds. It breeds in the Trindade and Martin Vaz Islands off the coast of Brazil.

BirdLife in Portugal publishes atlas of national seabirds

By Sanya Khetani-Shah, Tue, 17/11/2015 - 17:27

Compiling data from eight years of boat-based surveys, five years of coastal censuses, the national coastal bird count and a citizen science project, the Atlas of Marine Birds of Portugal is finally here to guide us through Portuguese waters, roughly one quarter of the European seas.

The atlas, prepared by SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) and its partners, covers the entire national territory and the status of 65 marine species. For 50 ‘main’ species, the atlas gathers detailed factsheets on their distribution, movements and phenology, abundance and population trends, ecology and habitat and threats, and conservation through more than 500 modelling species distribution maps or by time of year and geographic region. Both the Madeira and Azores archipelagos are included in the maps.

This book also compiles information about the historical aspects of marine ornithology in Portugal and bird conservation, and presents a broad outline of the composition and dynamics of seabird communities and their breeding colonies in Portuguese territory.

This atlas is thus the most comprehensive compilation to date of data on the distribution and abundance of seabirds and shorebirds that use Portuguese waters. It is a considerable leap forward in our knowledge of European seabirds and helps plug our information gaps on life in our seas.

The birdie dance: fancy footwork of courting birds revealed

To woo potential mates, the blue-capped cordon bleu performs a high-speed tap dance too fast for the human eye to see, new research has found

Blue-capped Cordon-bleu, Ngorongoro.jpgHumans buy flowers. Capuchins throw stones. Giant tortoises bellow. But the blue-capped cordon bleu, a small finch found in Africa, really knows how to win over a mate.

The three-inch-high omnivores perform energetic cabaret acts to woo their partners, rattling through routines that feature head-bobbing, singing and tap dance, and often all three at once.
The birds were known to sing and nod their heads to impress the opposite sex, but high speed video footage has now revealed that they spice up their displays with nifty footwork that adds percussion to their repertoire and sends vibrations racing down their perches.

Scientists at Hokkaido University filmed the birds as they tried their luck with cagemates, and found that both males and females turned to tap to seduce their targets. The steps have not been seen before because they are too fast for the naked eye to spot.

“Like humans, males and females of cordon-bleus are mutually choosy and both sexes need to show off,” said Masayo Soma who lead the research. “They show tap dancing throughout the courtship display, and they sometimes add songs to tap dancing.” Whether the steps and songs are coordinated is the focus of ongoing research.

Three kiwi killed by hunters

By Imran Ali
10:00 AM Wednesday Nov 18, 20153 comments

The ignorance of hunters using leg hold or gin traps that are laid on the ground are unnecessarily killing kiwis, a Northland bird expert has warned.

Northpower Native Bird Recovery Centre chairman Robert Webb this week received three seriously injured kiwis - two females and a male - which appeared to have been caught in traps that were not properly laid. All three had to be put down.

The 10 and 5-year-old females of breeding age suffered injuries to their leg and bill.

Mr Webb said the bird with a broken leg was brought by a landowner from Maromaku to the recovery centre on Maunu Rd over the weekend and the other female kiwi came from Parua Bay.

Another kiwi, a 10-day-old male, was found injured on the Mt Manaia walking track and brought in on Monday.

Checks revealed he had a compound fracture on his left leg, possible after it was caught in a trap.

Mr Webb said the bird could not be saved as infection had already set in the injured leg which would have damaged his kidney or liver.

"It's the worst part of our job to put down a bird which is a national icon due to human error. It's very hard to get the message through to people setting traps on the ground that it can kill a kiwi."

Monday, 23 November 2015

West Nile virus killing millions more birds than previously thought

Date:  November 2, 2015
Source:  Washington University in St. Louis

Many people remember the arrival of West Nile in North America in 1999, if only because the initial outbreak killed not just wild crows but also exotic birds in the Bronx Zoo.

In the following years, a trail of dead crows marked the spread of the virus from the East through the Midwest on to the West Coast. It took only four years for the introduced virus to span the continent.

But what happened to bird populations in the wake of the virus's advance? Were some species decimated and others left untouched? After the initial die-off were the remaining birds immune, or mown down by successive waves of the disease? Nobody really knew.

Now, a study published in the Nov. 2 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides some answers. The study, a collaboration among scientists at Colorado State University, the University of California at Los Angeles, Washington University in St. Louis and the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), is the first to fully document the demographic impacts of West Nile virus on North American bird populations.

The scientists analyzed 16 years of mark-recapture data collected at more than 500 bird-banding stations operated using the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survival protocol developed by IBP, a California-based nonprofit that studies declines in bird populations.

Nest cavity competition may threaten an endangered Tasmanian songbird

Date:  November 5, 2015
Source:  Central Ornithology Publication Office

The Forty-spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus), an endangered Tasmanian songbird, has been experiencing unexplained declines in its remaining habitat, and a new study in The Condor: Ornithological Applications describes how competition with a related species for nest cavities may be putting extra pressure on these vulnerable birds. Amanda Edworthy of Australian National University spent two years monitoring nests of Forty-spotted Pardalotes and Striated Pardalotes at three sites around Tasmania, documenting that about 10% of Forty-spotted Pardalote nests were ultimately taken over by their bigger, more aggressive cousins.

During the breeding seasons of 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, Edworthy searched for nests of both pardalote species in Tasmania's dry coastal forests, monitoring them every four days and using climbing gear to observe nests high in trees. She also used freeze-dried pardalote specimens as dummies to test how the birds responded to intruders, placing them in lifelike positions outside nests and recording the birds' reactions. While she didn't see a single instance of Forty-spotted Pardalotes taking over a Striated Pardalote nest site, Striated Pardalotes usurped about 10% of the Forty-spotted Pardalotes nesting attempts she monitored, with these takeovers occurring most frequently at sites with greater Striated Pardalote population density. Forty-spotted Pardalotes responded less aggressively to Striated Pardalote dummies than to dummies of their own species, likely due to caution in the face of a threatening competitor, while Striated-spotted Pardalotes displayed similar amounts of aggression to dummies of both species.

Accessing pardalote nests required determination and comfort with heights. "I learned to climb trees just for this project," says Edworthy. "Tasmania's gum trees are some of the tallest flowering plants in the world, and I had nests ranging from eye level to 30 meters above the ground, with most of them well above ladder height. My field assistants and I would either hike or bike all the gear out to each nest every four days or so, and haul ourselves up into the canopy. We got some great views of Tasmanian coastline and forest canopies from the tops of trees, though when the wind came up, it was a bit frightening to see the trunk of the tree moving below me and to feel how elastic trees are in the wind. Climbing let us consistently access nests of Forty-spotted Pardalotes for the first time--previous studies were done from the ground or with ladders."

Female birds can’t shake their colorful fathers, and other lessons from studying 6,000 species

Date: November 4, 2015
Source: McMaster University

The evolution of male songbirds as the colorful consorts of drab female partners is more complicated than long thought, says a McMaster researcher on a team that looked at nearly 6,000 species for a massive study published in the journal Nature.

Conventional wisdom has held that in many species, male birds were more colorful because they were competing for female attention, and that female birds were less colorful because they needed camouflage while guarding their nests.

Now advances in computing power and new methods that compare coloration in different species have allowed the researchers on the study to look at every species of passerine, the perching songbirds that make up about 60 per cent of the world's 10,000 species of birds.

The study offers impressive new evidence that supports some old theories while setting others to rest, explains Cody Dey, an author of the Nature paper who was completing his PhD in Biology at McMaster at the time of the research.

The question of plumage colour is significant, Dey, explains, because birds, especially males, give up so much to look so good, creating an evolutionary mystery that asks exactly what they gain in return for rendering themselves more vulnerable to predation. "These are the questions that have been asked since the start of ecology," he says.

Among the ideas the research supports is that females would have evolved to be even more different than males than they already are, except that every female inherits the genetic material of a colorful male -- an ancestry that is impossible to shake. "If colorful males do better, they're going to produce colorful daughters as well, even though it's not necessarily advantageous for the daughters," Dey says.

California drought threatens habitat of migratory birds

Date: November 7, 2015
Source: Reuters - News Video Online / Powered by

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Sunday, 22 November 2015

Human handouts could be spreading disease from birds to people

 Date: November 11, 2015
Source: University of Georgia

People feeding white ibises at public parks are turning the normally independent birds into beggars, and now researchers at the University of Georgia say it might also be helping spread disease.

They recently launched a study to find out how being fed by humans is changing the health, ecology and behavior of white ibises in south Florida, where construction and land development is drying up their wetland habitats.

The birds normally feed on aquatic animals like fish, snails and crayfish, but they are now becoming accustomed to being fed items such as bread, fast food and popcorn by people at parks, said Sonia Hernandez, an associate professor with joint appointments in UGA's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and College of Veterinary Medicine.

This shift in feeding behavior could have serious consequences not just for the white ibises, she said, but also to people.

"In a previous study, and using molecular typing methods, we found that the strains of salmonella bacteria that white ibises are infected with are the same that some people get sick from, particularly in Florida," Hernandez said. "Because white ibises move from urban to natural environments readily, they might be responsible for moving these strains around over large distances."

Hernandez is working with other UGA researchers on the five-year, $2.1 million project, funded by the National Science Foundation's Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program. Their findings could apply to other wildlife species that have grown cozy with humans at public parks and other human-altered landscapes, she said.

Other researchers on the project are Jeff Hepinstall-Cymerman, an associate professor in the Warnell School; Sonia Altizer, a professor, and Richard Hall, an assistant research scientist, both in the Odum School of Ecology; and Kristen Navara, an associate professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.