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.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Birds choose spring neighbors based on winter ‘friendships’

 Date: September 14, 2016
Source: Oxford University

Great tits pick their spring breeding sites to be near their winter flockmates, according to new research into the social networks of birds from the University of Oxford.

The study shows that as mated pairs of great tits settle down to breed in the spring, they establish their homes in locations close to their winter flockmates. They also arrange their territory boundaries so that their most-preferred winter 'friends' are their neighbours.

The findings give new insights into the social behaviour of birds and demonstrate how social interactions can shape other aspects of wild animals' lives, such as the environmental conditions they will experience based on their choice of home location.

The research is published in the journal Ecology Letters.

Lead author Dr Josh Firth, of the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology, said: 'The great tits we study are a good general model for many other bird species. They form large flocks in the winter, when they're searching for food, and then each pair chooses a single set breeding site where they will be located throughout the spring as they build a nest and raise their chicks.

'We show that they appear to choose their spring breeding sites to stay close to their winter flockmates. Not only do they nest closest to the birds they held the strongest winter social bonds with, they also appear to arrange their territories so that they share home boundaries with those birds.'

100 MacQueen's Bustards smuggled in Iranian ship

Earlier this month, coast guards in Kuwait intercepted a ship attempting to smuggle 100 Asian MacQueen's Bustards Chlamydotis macqueenii, recognized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The species is threatened by hunting and trapping throughout its range, particularly in its wintering habitat of Pakistan and Iran. The bird is in high demand in the region for use as live prey in falconry training.

In a press statement issued by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior, the Public Relations and Security Media Department explained that the Coast Guard Department was inspecting foreign ships that were heading to Doha Port, when they discovered the Iranian ship with its load of birds. Also discovered on board were 16 falcons of various species, mostly Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

Kuwait Environment Protection Society (KEPS– BirdLife International’s Kuwaiti partner) investigated the case and confirmed that all the birds on board had been poached from the wild and were being transported without any legal documents. The offenders are currently in custody and will be dealt with according to Kuwaiti law. Commenting on the issue, Wejdan Al-Oqab, KEPS Secretary General, says “There are hundreds of birds, including MacQueen's Bustard and eagles, illegally killed every year”. 

“We are working hard to protect threatened animal populations and work closely with law enforcement agencies to protect biodiversity and enforce national and international wildlife laws to ensure that the trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival”. 

Numbers of MacQueen's Bustard have fallen dramatically in recent decades. The species is threatened by a number of factors, including the degradation of their vegetation habitat by livestock grazing, but hunting remains the biggest threat to its future. 

The species is protected under international wildlife treaties. The Asian MacQueen's Bustard is roughly the same size as a turkey and typically has a large, speckled sandy brown upper body, a creamy white underside and long legs, a slender neck and a wingspan that can reach 1.5 meters. Its colouring acts as camouflage in the desert and sandy plains, providing a challenge for hunters and their falcons. 

The MacQueen's Bustard is the game bird of choice for Arab falconers, because it is a good match for the falcons. There is such strong demand for the bird in the region that some hunters are willing to use illicit means to acquire them. 

Vital protection for Scotland’s seabirds delayed by UK Government

Scottish environment groups have expressed concern that an important consultation on the protection of special places for seabirds has been held back by the UK Government. Earlier this year in July the Scottish Government launched a consultation on 10 marine Special Protection Areas, a requirement under EU law to help safeguard areas crucial for internationally important bird populations. 
However, a further five proposed marine SPAs were not included in the consultation as the required agreement of the UK Government had not been provided. 

Now Scottish Environment LINK’s Marine Group has written to the UK Environment Minister, Thérèse Coffey MP, urging her to agree to the Scottish Government consulting on the sites without further delay. 

The delayed sites include the seas off St Kilda, the UNESCO World Heritage Site which supports the largest seabird colony in Europe. The wide range of marine birds that would benefit from proposals include puffins, which have seen rapid declines in numbers across Europe and are now classified as Endangered on the IUCN European Red List. 

Richard Luxmoore, Senior Nature Conservation Adviser at the National Trust for Scotland said: “The National Trust for Scotland has been monitoring seabird populations on its properties for over 40 years and has recorded alarming declines – over 90 per cent in the case of kittiwakes on St Kilda. Most of these are attributable to problems with their feeding areas at sea. Without effective protection for these birds, our monitoring amounts to little more than a protracted obituary.” 

Alex Kinninmonth, Head of Marine Policy at RSPB Scotland said: “Seabirds are amongst the world's most threatened group of birds, and with globally significant colonies dependent on the seas around Scotland for survival we have a duty to protect them. Yet right when we should be accelerating seabird conservation efforts, the UK Government appears to have pulled the handbrake. 

“It's now time for action and progressing these scientifically credible protected areas would be a clear demonstration of the government's commitment to improving our marine environment and achieving the UK vision for our seas and oceans.”