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 March 2016

Predator plagues and the ongoing battle to save New Zealand's native birds

As the Department of Conservation gears up for another large pest-control operation Samantha Gee finds out if the last one worked and what the future of predator control looks like. 

A small yellow insect-eating bird with a loud melodious call is what first drew Graeme Elliott into the world of New Zealand's native birds.

Elliott, a self-confessed "nerdy little birdy kid" was raised in Christchurch and spent family holidays in Nelson where he remembers climbing Mt Arthur to look across the huge expanse of Kahurangi National Park, and wonder what was out there. 

"When I was a kid I suppose there probably was still a kakapo out there and I thought, there might be a kakapo, there might be a saddleback, there might be a kokako, they were kind of these rare and elusive creatures."

The Department of Conservation scientist says when he looks out across the second largest national park in the country now, he knows what isn't there.

Elliott paints a bleak picture of indigenous bird life in New Zealand. Without "intensive intervention" he says our native birds will continue to decline until they are extinct.

"I've always thought about the forest and the backcountry as the place where all our native animals lived and yet you realise now you go out into the Kahurangi National Park and you realise they don't live there any more, for the most part they have gone."

When he first began working with native birds in the 1980s, Elliott says there was a general acceptance that the species that were going to become extinct were already on their way out. 

Mark Blazis: Roseate terns face another threat — ravenous gray seals

By Mark Blazis
Posted Mar. 28, 2016 at 9:45 PM
Updated Mar 29, 2016 at 12:50 AM

While you probably know how vital Massachusetts is to the tiny world population of piping plovers, you might not be as familiar with roseate terns. They’re also rare and endangered birds that need the Bay State. About 80 percent of their tiny population feeds on the Outer Cape each summer, fattening up mostly on abundant sand eels before migrating to coastal South America where they spend the winter.

In a little more than a decade after the roseate tern's placement on the endangered species list in 1987, its population rebounded from a low of just 3,000 pairs up to over 4,000. Prospects were looking bright for their ascent to the 5,000 pairs needed to keep their population viable. But their numbers have once again fallen alarmingly close to 1987 numbers. Kathy Parsons, director of the state Coastal Waterbird Program, thinks she knows why. Needless to say, Cape surf fishermen won’t be surprised. Gray seals, which have expanded beyond everyone’s expectations, take enormous amounts of fish and make surf casting for striped bass almost impossible. Parsons suspects they are competing too well with the terns for the same food.

Ducks prefer to be fed 'trendy' kale, charity claims

Canal and River Trust, which wants people to feed ducks healthy leaves instead of bread, reports that ducks prefer kale to 'pedestrian' iceberg lettuce

8:30AM GMT 26 Mar 2016

Its hipster appeal has seen it appear on menus around Britain in recent years.

But now, kale has emerged as the healthy leaf of choice not just for people - but for ducks.
The Canal and River Trust, which is campaigning for people to feed ducks with lettuce leaves rather than ‘junk food’ bread, said it had carried out aLettuce Taste Test to find out whether the birds “favoured one type of leaf over another”.

Kale – which was included as a “wildcard” despite actually being a cabbage – proved to be “the biggest hit”, according to the results of the rudimentary testing carried out by the charity on Aylesbury’s Grand Union Canal.

The vegetable, which the trust noted was “currently gracing the table of many trendy restaurants” was given a “duck approval rating” of 10/10 by the trust’s testers after they observed that “ducks couldn’t get enough” of it.

It proved far more popular than the humble iceberg lettuce, which scored just 6/10 after testing found the ducks “had a nibble but didn’t go back for seconds”.

Quality of environment explains why some birds choose to neglect their hungriest chicks

March 30, 2016

Scientists have long been aware that in some species of bird, parents will prioritise feeding the neediest chicks, whereas in others they will focus on the strongest offspring. Until now, though, the reason behind this discrepancy has remained a mystery.

A comprehensive new study from the University of Oxford finds that the quality of the local environment can explain which chicks in a nest a parent bird decides to feed. This helps resolve a long-standing question in ecology about whether parents respond to signals of need (such as how much a chick begs) or signals of quality (such as a chick's colour) when making feeding decisions.

For example, species living in favourable, predictable environments (such as tree swallows in North America) choose to feed begging chicks that are in poorer condition relative to their siblings, whereas parent birds in unfavourable, unpredictable environments (such as blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos Islands) preferentially feed chicks that are in the best condition, regardless of how much other siblings in the nest beg.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Shana Caro, a PhD student in Oxford's Department of Zoology who led the research, said: 'There have been hundreds of studies looking at the phenomenon of begging in birds, many of which have found strange results and contradictory patterns.

'Our analysis of these studies found that there is a universal explanation for these discrepancies: the predictability and quality of the local environment.'

The researchers compiled the available literature – more than 300 studies – on the parental care preferences during feeding of 143 bird species across the globe and analysed how this variation in care relates to the condition and behaviour of offspring, as well as the environmental conditions in the area in which each species is found.

Shana Caro said: 'In good ecological conditions, such as those with predictable and abundant sources of food, you tend to find that the chicks in greatest need of food make the most noise and do the most begging.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The first 3-D atlas of the extinct dodo

Date: March 25, 2016
Source: Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

For the first time since its extinction, a 3-D atlas of the skeletal anatomy of the dodo has been created, based upon two exceptional dodo skeletons that have remained unstudied for over a century. This atlas represents the culmination of nearly five years of work and thousands of human-hours of digital investigation on the only two associated, near-complete skeletons of the dodo in existence.

The dodo represents one of the best-known examples of extinction caused by humans, yet we know surprisingly little about this flightless pigeon from a scientific perspective. Now, for the first time since its extinction, a 3-D atlas of the skeletal anatomy of the dodo has been created, based upon two exceptional dodo skeletons that have remained unstudied for over a century. This atlas, published as the fifteenth Memoir of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, represents the culmination of nearly five years of work and thousands of man-hours of digital investigation on the only two associated, near-complete skeletons of the dodo in existence.

Published 150 years after Sir Richard Owen's first scientific description of dodo anatomy, based on incomplete, composite skeletons, the new atlas is the first to show accurate relative proportions and to describe several previously unknown bones of the dodo skeleton, including knee caps, ankle and wrist bones. The atlas opens new pathways for the investigation of the paleobiology and evolution of what may arguably be one of the most famous, yet surprisingly poorly known animals that went extinct in recent human history.

Malaria family tree has bird roots

Date:March 24, 2016
Source:Cornell University

Extensive testing of malarial DNA found in birds, bats and other small mammals from five East African countries revealed that malaria has its roots in bird hosts. It then spread from birds to bats and on to other mammals.

A study published this week in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution reveals a new hypothesis on the evolution of hundreds of species of malaria -- including the form that is deadly to humans.

Extensive testing of malarial DNA found in birds, bats and other small mammals from five East African countries revealed that malaria has its roots in bird hosts. It then spread from birds to bats and on to other mammals.

"We can't begin to understand how malaria spread to humans until we understand its evolutionary history," said lead author Holly Lutz, a doctoral candidate in the fields of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at Cornell University. "In learning about its past, we may be better able to understand the effects it has on us."

Lutz and her colleagues took blood samples from hundreds of East African birds, bats, and other small mammals and screened the blood for the parasites. When they found malaria, they took samples of the parasites' DNA and sequenced it to identify mutations in the genetic code. From there, Lutz determined how different malaria species are related based on differences in their genetic code. Having large sample sizes from many species was key.

Botulism in waterbirds: Mortality rates and new insights into how it spreads

Date:March 25, 2016
Source:American Society for Microbiology

Outbreaks of botulism killed large percentages of waterbirds inhabiting a wetland in Spain. During one season, more than 80 percent of gadwalls and black-winged stilts died. The botulinum toxin's spread may have been abetted by an invasive species of water snail which frequently carries the toxin-producing bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, and which is well adapted to wetlands polluted by sewage. Global warming will likely increase outbreaks, said corresponding author Rafael Mateo, PhD. The research was published March 25th in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

Botulism is a major killer of waterbirds, including some endangered species. In earlier studies, some also published inApplied and Environmental Microbiology, these investigators had found that eutrophication of some of these wetlands, due to effluent from waste water treatment plants, was encouraging growth of C. botulinum and other bacterial pathogens of birds.

In the current study, the investigators surveyed mortality among the resident waterbirds, and investigated how the bacterium is spread. During two outbreaks, the investigators collected 43 dead white-headed ducks, representing seven percent and 17 percent of their maximum population on Navaseca lake during 2011 and 2012, respectively, said Mateo, who is Head of the Group of Wildlife Toxicology, at the Spanish Institute of Game and Wildlife Research, Cuidad Real, Spain. White-headed ducks are highly endangered, with only about ten thousand surviving individuals worldwide.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Rare 'butcher bird' spotted at Surrey Wildlife Trust reserve in Camberley

13:33, 12 MAR 2016
UPDATED 13:34, 12 MAR 2016

The Great Grey Shrike, a bird of prey that stores its kills, will have twitchers flocking to Poors Allotment

A Great Grey Shrike, a rare and elusive bird of prey which winters in the UK in small numbers, has been spotted at Surrey Wildlife Trust's Poors Allotment nature reserve near Camberley

A rare bird of prey has been spotted hunting in a Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) nature reserve near Camberley .

The Great Grey Shrike was identified at Poors Allotment by eagle-eyed SWT officer James Herd, who said it was his first sighting of the bird during his seven years working in heathland management.

“It’s an incredibly rare bird and it’s very difficult to get a glimpse, so I was really lucky to witness it,” he said.

Rare natural sightings in Surrey
Not much bigger than a blackbird, the Great Grey Shrike hunts small mammals, lizards and beetles and will even kill other birds as big as greenfinches. It then stores its catch in a bush or tree, to devour later.

“It’s known as the butcher bird, because it has this unusual behaviour of keeping its prey in a makeshift larder,” said Mr Herd “Sometimes, it even impales mammals or birds on a thorn for safekeeping.”

Only 200 Great Grey Shrikes visit the UK every year between October and May, travelling from Europe, Asia and north Africa.

'Vital habitat'
Mr Herd explained that Poors Allotment offers the perfect habitat for the species, a relatively quiet heathland with a good food source and plenty of high perches so the bird can look out for prey.

Historically, this species has also been known to visit the trust’s reserves at Chobham Common and Ash Ranges, he said.

“SWT works hard to preserve this type of heathland habitat, which is vital for these birds,” he added. “If we lost these habitats, the shrike would have nowhere to live in winter.”
The few Great Grey Shrikes wintering in the UK will soon migrate back to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

In the meantime, however, birdwatchers may be lucky enough to see one perched on a fence post or high in a tree on heathland, farmland or in scrub.

SWT has appealed for anyone who spots or photographs this rare bird to record the sighting at

Antarctic Birds Recognize Human Intruders [VIDEO]

Antarctica seabirds act aggressively when they recognize a human approaching their nest. Previously, this talent was thought to be unique to high-IQ birds such as crows and magpies.

By Samantha Mathewson | Mar 25, 2016 03:23 PM EDT

Crows, magpies and mockingbirds have a reputation for being able to recognize a familiar face, but new research suggests brown skuas living in Antarctica can too. What's remarkable is that these remote birds can recognize individual humans after only a few interactions. 

This discovery was made by a team of researchers from South Korea who were monitoring the progress of breeding skuas.

The brown skuas, Stercorarius antarcticus, frequently attacked researchers checking their nests to count their eggs and nestlings. Some of the scientists noticed they were being attacked at greater distances each day, as if the birds were keener to the aims of the individuals.

"I had to defend myself against the skuas' attack," said Yeong-Deok Han, a Ph.D. student at Inha University. "When I was with other researchers, the birds flew over me and tried to hit me. Even when I changed my field clothes, they followed me. The birds seemed to know me no matter what I wear."

Researchers would check the birds' nests once a week to monitor their breeding status. To test the skuas' awareness and recognition skills, researchers had pairs of people walk in various directions, both away and toward skua nests. Each pair consisted of a scientist who had frequently visited the bird's nest - the intruder - and a neutral human who had never conducted field tests.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Results revealed for 2016 Big Farmland Bird Count

 06:25 26 March 2016

Threatened species are among the most commonly-seen birds in East Anglia, according to the results of the 2016 Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC).

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) launched the annual count in 2014 to highlight the positive work done by farmers and gamekeepers to help reverse the decline in farmland bird numbers.

This year, nearly 1,000 farmers across the country spotted 130 different species, which is the highest total so far. They included 25 species from the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern, with six appearing among the top 25 most commonly-seen species: Fieldfares, house sparrows, starlings, yellowhammers, song thrushes and skylarks.

More than 100 different species of birds were spotted in Norfolk, across a huge area of nearly 63,000ha of land. Lapwings, starlings and linnets were in the top 10 most abundant birds seen in the county, spotted along with 17 other Red List species.

In Suffolk, fieldfares, yellowhammers and starlings were among the top 10 most abundant species seen on more than 22,000ha of land.

The GWCT’s head of development and training, Jim Egan, said: “Despite the horrible weather at the start of the count week, we’ve nearly doubled the total number of participants since the first year. It really does show that farmers have a long-term commitment to conservation management.”

Hard to 'swallow': The mysterious disappearance of Canada's aerial insect eaters

MARCH 25, 2016

Forty years ago, swallows were a common sight in the summer, darting between the beams of old barns or swooping low over the waters of a creek. These swift aerial acrobats seemed to be everywhere -- perched on telephone lines by the dozen awaiting the fall migration, or whirling and diving around old wooden bridges in pursuit of airborne insects.

Now, these birds have seemingly disappeared from midair, entirely abandoning large swathes of their former Canadian range. Some, like the bank swallow, have seen their numbers plummet by 98 per cent since 1970. They've become the centre of one of Canada's greatest biological mysteries, and scientists are scrambling to discover why.

The swallows' disappearance is part of a larger trend affecting birds known as aerial insectivores, which spend much of their lives on the wing in a constant search for airborne insects to dine on. This group, which includes chimney swifts, purple martins, and whippoorwills, has plunged by 70 per cent in population in Canada, according to a 2012 report by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. Many birds in this category are now listed as threatened in Canada.

Scientists Solve A Shag-adelic Bird Mystery

New Zealanders now get two endangered shags for the price of one.
March 25, 2016

New Zealanders have never been particularly enamored with their native shags. Anglers blamed the cormorants for stealing trout—an introduced species—and many colonies were destroyed to protect sports fisheries. One 1945 treatise, “The Shag Menace,” called for wholesale slaughter of the birds, with focused efforts during nesting and breeding seasons.Perhaps that’s why, compared with kiwis and other island birds, New Zealand’s dozen or so shag species have not been well studied. For many years, scientists couldn’t even decide how many shag species lived in New Zealand. One species, the Stewart Island Shag, exemplifies the confusion. First described in 1845, by British zoologist George Robert Gray, the Stewart Island Shag was listed as having two distinct populations, as well as bronze and pied morphs. While some ornithologists considered these one species, others dubbed them separate species or subspecies.

Recent research finally resolved the century-old debate. Scientists analyzed the birds’ genes and concluded that the Stewart Island Shag is actually two separate species: the Foveaux Shag (Leucocarbo stewarti), which lives on both sides of the Foveaux Strait between Stewart Island and South Island, and the Otago Shag (Leucocarbo chalconotus), which lives further to the east on South Island.

Cyclone Winston decimates 'Bird Island’ (Vatu-i-Ra) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area

By Sialesi Rasalato, Thu, 10/03/2016 - 02:25

One picture is worth a thousand words.  In this case two pictures – a before and after of Vatu Island, or Vatu-i-Ra, one of the 28 internationally important bird areas recognized by BirdLife International for Fiji.

Vatu-i-Ra is a small uninhabited island approximately 100 meters by 300 meters. It is known locally as `Bird Island' because of the large breeding colonies of seabirds on the island.  Vatu-i-Ra is home to nine species of breeding seabirds.  Black Noddies (Anous tenuirostris) have the largest population of more than 20,000 pairs, identifying the site as globally important for this congregatory breeding species and so registering it as an IBA. In 2011, BirdLife’s Fiji Programme established an acoustic attraction and artificial nesting boxes on the island and has been maintaining the system to the current date. This was established to attract and recruit threatened seabirds that are known to fly across the Vatuira passage. Land birds such as Barn owls (Tyto alba) and Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) have been observed on the island but are not considered residents.  The island also hosts the Hawkesbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) during breeding season and is home to the Fiji endemic pygmy snake-eyed skink (Cryptoblecephalus eximius).

In 2006 BirdLife conducted an operation to remove Pacific rats (Rattus exulans), the only rat species present on the island.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Bird-brained council bosses to spend £100K on raptor to guard rubbish dump

By Joe Stenson
March 25, 2016

FEATHER-brained council bosses are spending £100,000 on a bird of prey to guard a pile of rubbish.

North Ayrshire Council have agreed to pay £104,164 of public cash to a private company to have a raptor “guard” a single landfill site from sea gulls.

The bird of prey will work “full time” shifts of eight hours a day, five days a week, according to officials.

The council admits the cost of putting a bird on the payroll equates to £12.50 an hour – twice the minimum wage.

The contract’s publication comes at a time when North Ayrshire Council have proposed over £2m of cuts which could include closing primary school kitchens and slashing the hours of some workers. It is not yet known what kind of bird will guard the tip

The move was branded as an “astonishing” waste of resources by the council’s critics.

The contract which the council have awarded reads: “North Ayrshire Council requires to appoint a provider of raptor control at Shewalton Landfill Site.”

The contract period will be for a period of two years with an option to extended for a further two years subject to satisfactory performance and budget availability.”

Shewalton Landfill Site is in Irvine, on the west coast of North Ayrshire, and the site is generally used by rubbish trucks to dump household waste.

It is not known exactly which breed of raptor will be used to patrol the landfill site, but similar operations have employed hawks and eagles.

Eben Wilson – of Taxpayer Scotland – said: “This is an astonishing amount of money for this service.

Invasive pest lures rare woodpecker to western Chicago suburbs

The pileated woodpecker, a crow-sized black bird with white stripes and a flaming red crest rarely seen in northeastern Illinois, is returning to the western Chicago suburbs with help from an unlikely source: the emerald ash borer.

The pileated woodpecker, a crow-sized black bird with white stripes and a flaming red crest, is returning to the western Chicago suburbs with help from an unlikely source: the emerald ash borer.

"Spotting a pileated in DuPage County is 'a big deal,'" wrote John Cebula, outreach coordinator for the DuPage Birding Club, in an email to theNaperville Sun. "That said, the species has been seen and heard fairly regularly on the east side of the Morton Arboretum in Lisle for the past month or so."

At the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, ecologist Brian Kraskiewicz has reported recent pileated woodpecker sightings near Naperville and other spots around the county.

"A few lucky folks have recently observed the elusive pileated woodpecker in woodlands at Danada and St. James Farm" forest preserves, Kraskiewicz said. The bird also was spotted in Blackwell, Waterfall Glen, Wood Ridge and West DuPage Woods forest preserves.

Climate change has helped more UK species than it has harmed, RSPB study finds

Wildlife groups' study of fortunes of 400 UK plant and animal species concludes that the 'net impact' of climate change has so far been positive

8:15PM GMT 23 Mar 2016

Climate change has so far helped more species than it has hurt in the UK, a major study by wildlife groups including the RSPB has found.

The study of the fortunes of 398 plant and animal species since 1970 found that 152 had been affected in some way by climate change, with “more species impacted positively than negatively in the short-term at least”.

It found that 61 species had been harmed by climate change, such as Capercaillies, which saw more chicks die due to increased spring rainfall, and the Mountain Ringlet butterfly, which lives in colder climes and has seen its habitat decrease as temperatures rise.

However, 91 species had seen a positive impact. These included Grey Herons and Woodpigeons, which have lower mortality thanks to the milder winters, and the Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly, which has been able to expand northwards through the UK as temperatures rise.

"The net impact of climatic change on UK species in our sample is positive, but it is not clear whether this will always be the case."

Study by wildlife groups including RSPB
The warmer climate has also enabled species from continental Europe to colonise the UK, which was previously too cold for them, These include the Small red-eyed damselfly and the Little Egret, the RSPB said.

The report concluded: "The net impact of climatic change on UK species in our sample is positive, but it is not clear whether this will always be the case. Protected area networks will be essential to help species survive and track suitable climate space."

The RSPB is a vocal campaigner for action to tackle climate change, which it describes as the “greatest long-term threat to people and wildlife”.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Changes to environment help protect young pheasants

Date: March 23, 2016
Source: University of Exeter

Summary:Making changes to the early lives of young pheasants can help prevent them dying needlessly, researchers have found. Giving pheasants raised perches in their pens during their first seven weeks helps them grow larger with bigger leg bones, fly higher and grasp, and roost off the ground safe from predators. This makes them less likely to be killed than birds bred without perches.

Creating a three dimensional environment for birds bred for field sports can help many more survive when they are released into the wild, a new study shows.

Giving pheasants raised perches in their pens during their first seven weeks helps them grow larger with bigger leg bones, fly higher and grasp, and roost off the ground safe from predators. This makes them less likely to be killed than birds bred without perches.

Researchers also discovered the introduction of raised perches helps pheasants develop better spatial awareness and memory. This may enable them to remember where good sources of food could be found, and therefore thrive in the wild.

Migratory birds disperse seeds long distances

Date:March 22, 2016
Source:Plataforma SINC

Some species of plants are capable of colonising new habitats thanks to birds that transport their seeds in their plumage or digestive tract. Until recently it was known that birds could do this over short distances, but a new study shows that they are also capable of dispersing them over more than 300 kilometres. For researchers, this function could be key in the face of climate change, allowing the survival of many species.

Birds can act as dispersers of seeds and other propagules -buds, bulbs, tubers or spores- over short distances which, in many cases, do not exceed a kilometre and a half. However, it had not been demonstrated whether or not they were capable of doing so over longer distances.

A team led by scientists at the Doñana Biological Station-CSIC (Spanish Council for Scientific Research) in Seville (Spain) confirmed this hypothesis due to the seeds found in the digestive tract of various species of birds hunted in the Canaries by Eleonora's falcons (Falco eleonorae) during their migration towards Africa.

"This mechanism of long-distance dispersion had not been confirmed until now, mainly due to the difficulty involved in sampling propagules transported by birds during their migratory flight. We were able to analyse it thanks to the hunting behaviour of Eleonora's falcons," Duarte Viana, researcher in the Doñana Biological Station and co-author of the study, explained.

Anti-duck hunting activists to leave dead birds at Daniel Andrews' office

Carcasses of protected birds killed during the first weekend of Victoria’s duck hunting season to be left on the premier’s doorstep

Australian Associated Press

Monday 21 March 2016 21.23 GMTLast modified on Monday 21 March 201621.24 GMT

The carcasses of protected birds gunned down during the opening weekend of Victoria’s duck hunting season will be left outside the office of the premier, Daniel Andrews, in a plea for him to stop the practice.

Six rare and endangered freckled ducks and a swan were among the dead birds collected at Lake Burrumbeet over the weekend, anti-hunting campaigner Laurie Levy says.

The RSPCA’s mobile animal hospital treated eight birds scooped from the wetlands on Saturday.

The first brought in was a protected red-necked avocet and had to be euthanised because it was in severe respiratory distress.

The rescue team outnumbered the shooters - something that showed duck hunting was a dying sport in Victoria, Levy said.

He wanted the state government to end duck hunting and said activists were planning to leave the bodies of the birds found by the rescue team outside the premier’s office at 10am on Tuesday.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

City birds are smarter than country birds

Life in the city changes cognition, behavior and physiology of birds to their advantage

Date: March 21, 2016
Source: McGill University

Birds living in urban environments are smarter than birds from rural environments.

But, why do city birds have the edge over their country friends? They adapted to their urban environments enabling them to exploit new resources more favorably then their rural counterparts, say a team of all-McGill University researchers.

In a first-ever study to find clear cognitive differences in birds from urbanized compared to rural areas, the researchers report key differences in problem-solving abilities such as opening drawers to access food, and temperament (bolder) among city birds versus country.

The team tested the two groups of birds using not only associative learning tasks, but innovative problem-solving tasks. Innovativeness is considered to be useful in the "real life" of animals in the wild, more so than associative learning.

"We found that not only were birds from urbanized areas better at innovative problem-solving tasks than bullfinches from rural environments, but that surprisingly urban birds also had a better immunity than rural birds," says Jean-Nicolas Audet, a Ph.D student in the Department of Biology and first author of the study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Roaring & Soaring: New Exhibit Explores the Dinosaur-Bird Connection

by Laura Geggel, Staff Writer   |   March 17, 2016 05:56pm ET

The asteroid that slammed into Earth 65.5 million years ago killed most, but not all, of the dinosaurs. Those that survived were a feathered lot, and they're still around today, a new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City reveals.

The exhibit "Dinosaurs Among Us" opens Monday (March 21), and walks guests through the myriad evidence — including nesting behavior similarities and feathered dinosaur findings — supporting the theory that dinosaurs evolved into birds.

"With this new exhibition, we invite visitors to question what they think they know about dinosaurs — how they looked and behaved and even whether all of them actually became extinct," Ellen Futter, president of the AMNH, said in a statement.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

National Red List book for Nepal's birds published and online

by Ed Parnell, Wed, 09/03/2016 - 23:09

A new publication that features the first assessment of Nepal’s birdlife based on IUCN Red List criteria was launched recently at an event at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The six-volume publication is now also freely available online as an invaluable conservation reference.

The Status of Nepal's Birds: The National Red List Series contains detailed accounts of more than 800 species that regularly occur in the country, as well as maps showing distribution changes since 1990.

The study was led by Carol Inskipp and Hem Sagar Baral, with additional contributions from 10 other authors. There are images provided by140 photographers, and bird records submitted by many local people. More than 20 Nepalese government departments and NGOs, including Bird Conservation Nepal (BirdLife in Nepal) also contributed to the impressive collaborative effort.

The six-volume, 3000-page book is published by ZSL.

“This study has been undertaken to assess for the first time the national conservation status of Nepal’s birds, and in particular to identify those species that are threatened with extinction in the country. Such an assessment is vital in order to guide conservation activities in the country,” said Richard Grimmett, BirdLife International’s Director of Conservation.

Almost 20% of Nepal’s birds (167 species) could soon be lost from the country, including 37 species that are threatened on a global scale. A further 62 species are near-threatened nationally, and nine species have not been recorded in Nepal since the 19th century.

Warming friendship: A man and a penguin forge a bond over thousands of miles

Published March 09, 2016

A Chinese proverb says that when you save a life, you’re forever responsible for it. And so it goes with a widowed fisherman, living on a remote beach in Brazil and his small but loyal feathered friend.

He calls him Jinjing, and without fail, the Magellanic penguin returns, like the prodigal son, after disappearing for days, weeks and even months to reconnect with the retired bricklayer, Joao Pereira de Souza — the human who saved his life.

The relationship was forever bonded in 2011, when de Souza found the oil-soaked bird lying on a beach by his shady home in Rio de Janeiro state. De Souza, 71, fed the bird sardines and enticed it to drink water.

Jinjing is a term of endearment in parts of Brazil, and not unlike a dog, the penguin never lets de Souza down – and even manages to perform his penguin duties.

Once a year, Jingjing joins thousands of other Magellanic penguins and migrates some 2,000 miles south to the Patagonia region during breeding season, which lasts from early September through February. And then he always comes back to the warm stretch of sand in Proveta, in southeast Brazil.

“When he returns he’s so happy to see me,” Mr. de Souza told The Wall Street Journal. “He comes up to my neck and hoots,” he added.

Read on ...

Arctic-nesting birds may struggle with climate change


Songbird nestlings in the Arctic struggle in cold, wet years, but the changes forecast by climate models may lead to even more challenging conditions, according to new research in The Auk: Ornithological Advances.

Jonathan Pérez of the University of California, Davis, and his colleagues compared the growth rates of the nestlings of White-crowned Sparrows, which have a broad breeding range, with those of Lapland Longspurs, which are an Arctic breeding specialist. They predicted that nestlings would grow faster in warmer, drier conditions, that clutches laid earlier would do better, and that the nestlings of specialist longspurs would grow faster than the generalist sparrows.

They found that growth rates were higher overall in 2013 than in 2014, when the weather was colder and wetter. There were also fewer arthropods, the birds' food source, available in 2014. Longspur nestlings grew faster than sparrow nestlings both years, but sparrows were unaffected by temperature, perhaps because sparrows nest in shrubs rather than on the open tundra. Nestlings from clutches that were laid earlier did grow faster than those from later clutches, since birds that arrived on their breeding grounds early could claim the best territories for raising young.

Birds can be grammar nerds too

Birds get one step closer to being smarter than you.
Melissa Dahl 
Source: Science of Us
10 MAR 2016 - 10:36 AM UPDATED 10 MAR 2016 - 10:36 AM

Fine, so various species of animals have demonstrated signs of traits we might once have considered “uniquely human” — empathy, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence, to name just a few. But grammar! We humans still have our grammar in general, and syntax in particular. That still makes us special, right?

Maybe not, reports the Washington Post’s Rachel Feltman. According to a new paper in Nature Communications, a particular type of bird — the Japanese great tit, similar to the chickadee in North America — uses syntax in its communication with its fellow birds. More specifically, as Feltman writes, these birds use a particular type of syntax: compositional, referring to the way a sentence or, in this case, a series of chirps — is structured. We humans use compositional syntax to get across complex ideas. For example:

“Careful, it’s dangerous” is a phrase that has meaning, and so is “come toward me.” When those two phrases are combined, they have a different meaning than they do on their own: They’re directing the receiver to act in a different way than either phrase would independently.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Common Murre die-off has died down after 40K carcasses found this winter

Beth Verge, Reporter and Multimedia Journalist
POSTED: 05:20 PM AKDT Mar 19, 2016    UPDATED: 05:39 PM AKDT Mar 19, 2016 

For now, a crisis has been averted for the massive seabird die-off that concerned scientists this winter, according to officials with Anchorage's Bird Training and Learning Center.

"We were afraid that this was going to carry on through the spring," said Bird TLC Director of Operations Guy Runco, referring to the thousands of Common Murres found exhausted and starved hundreds of miles north of their natural habitat near the sea. 

"We didn't know when it would end, so when February came around and we stopped getting calls, we were very happy with that," he said.

U.S. Geological Survey research wildlife biologists told the Associated Press that an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 carcasses of the penguin-like bird had been counted last month on the shores of a southwest Alaska lake, contributing to the total count of nearly 40,000, which could actually be a fraction of the true number.

But, for the last month, Bird TLC has not received any calls regarding Common Murre carcass discoveries.

"It's not just Anchorage," Runco said. "We got birds sent to us from as far north as Fairbanks. We were finding them inland throughout Alaska, and now that's just not the case."

Love of Shakespeare sparked a starling invasion

Species spread out after fan of the Bard imported 100
By Ernie Cowan | 3:46 p.m. March 18, 2016

Some might call the European starling an obnoxious interloper, while the more refined bird lover may refer to it as the “Shakespeare Bird.”

However you view this ubiquitous black bird, there is no denying that it has had an impact since its unique introduction to America in 1890.

Long before the scientific world became concerned with the impacts of introducing nonnative species, a total of 100 starlings were released in New York City’s Central Park. Eugene Schieffelin was a Shakespeare lover who wanted to bring to America as many birds as possible mentioned by the Bard in his poems.

Shakespeare lovers will know that there are frequent references to wrens, owls, larks and more than 60 other species in his works. The starling was mentioned just once in the play “Henry IV.”

At no small expense, Schieffelin initially imported 60 starlings and released them on a March day in Central Park. A year later, he introduced an additional 40 birds.

They liked their new home and soon multiplied. Within 50 years, they had spread to every state, and today they number an estimated 200 million.

The first starlings were reported in San Diego County in the late 1940s, according to Philip Unitt, author of the San Diego County Bird Atlas.

In addition to competing with native species for food and nesting locations, there have been estimates that starlings cause at least $800 million in crop damage annually.

Much of the damage they cause is the result of their concentrations. Massive flocks of hundreds of thousands of birds are known as murmurations, and while beautiful, they can be destructive, even dangerous to aircraft, with more than 800 incidents reported by the Federal Aviation Administration.