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, 23 September 2019

Scientists identify previously unknown 'hybrid zone' between hummingbird species

Date: September 17, 2019
Source: American Ornithological Society Publications Office

We usually think of a species as being reproductively isolated -- that is, not mating with other species in the wild. Occasionally, however, closely related species do interbreed. New research just published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances documents the existence of a previously undiscovered hybrid zone along the coast of northern California and southern Oregon, where two closely related bird hummingbirds, Allen's Hummingbird and Rufous Hummingbird, are blurring species boundaries. Researchers hope that studying cases such as this one could improve their understanding of how biodiversity is created and maintained.

A hybrid zone is an area where the ranges of two closely related species overlap and interbreed with one another. To map the extent of the hummingbird hybrid zone in northern California and southern Oregon, San Diego State University's Brian Myers and his colleagues collected data on the physical traits and courtship behavior of more than 300 hummingbirds in the region. Most of the breeding males across the hybrid zone had a mix of characteristics of the two species, shifting gradually from more Rufous-like birds in the north to more Allen's-like birds in the south.

The males of different hummingbird species have distinct displays, performing aerial acrobatics during which their tail feathers produce various sounds. The researchers captured hummingbirds using traps at feeders, temporarily keeping females in mesh cages, where they caught the attention of territorial males. "Sometimes the birds outsmart me," says Myers. "They'll only visit a feeder when the trap isn't on it, or they won't perform their courtship displays to the female hummingbird I'm carrying around, and this can make things very slow sometimes."

Genetically tailored instruction improves songbird learning

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

Some recent research suggests that educational achievement can be predicted based on differences in our genes. But does this really mean that genes set limits on an individual's academic potential? Or do these findings just reflect how standardized educational systems reward certain inborn learning styles and aptitudes at the expense of others?

A new UC San Francisco study conducted in songbirds supports the second interpretation, showing that what at first appear to be genetic constraints on birds' song learning abilities could be largely eliminated by tailoring instruction to better match the birds' inborn predispositions.

Education researchers have long advocated for tailoring classroom instruction to the specific learning styles of different students. However, carefully controlled studies showing the benefits of this approach have been inconclusive.

"Untangling the influences of genes and experience on educational achievement in humans is extremely challenging," said Michael Brainard, Ph.D., a professor of physiology and psychiatry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in the UCSF Center for Integrative Neuroscience. "The advantage of studying this kind of learning in songbirds is that in our experiments we can carefully control both the genetic background of individual birds and the instruction that they receive."

Bird populations in US and Canada down 3bn in 50 years

By Victoria Gill
Science correspondent, BBC News

19 September 2019

Bird populations in Asia and the US are "in crisis", according to two major studies.

The second outlines a tipping point in "the Asian songbird crisis": on the island of Java, Indonesia, more birds may now live in cages than in the wild.

Scientists hope the findings will serve as a wake-up call.

How have three billion birds disappeared?

The North America study revealed how many birds were being lost across every type of habitat - from grasslands to coasts to deserts. While it did not directly assess what was driving this, the scientists concluded that, among multiple causes, the major factor was habitat loss driven by human activity.

This study, explained lead researcher Dr Ken Rosenberg from the Cornell lab of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy, was the first to "run the numbers" on bird populations.

"We knew some species were declining," he told BBC News, "but we thought that, while rare birds were disappearing, the more generalist birds - and those better adapted to human landscapes - would be filling in the gaps."

The team's calculations were based on bringing together all the bird monitoring in North America for the past 50 years - every major survey carried out across the continent since 1970.

"What we saw was this pervasive net loss," Dr Rosenberg said. "And we were pretty startled to see that the more common birds, the everyday backyard birds and generalist species, are suffering some of the biggest losses."

That same pattern, he added, is likely to be mirrored in other parts of the world. And the situation in Asia, as the other study has shown, is a particularly striking case of a human-driven extinction crisis.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Why do birds migrate at night?

Date: September 12, 2019
Source: Southern Methodist University

It was a puzzle about birds.

Migratory birds are known to rely on Earth's magnetic field to help them navigate the globe. And it was suspected that a protein called cryptochrome, which is sensitive to blue light, was making it possible for birds to do this.

Yet many of these animals are also known to migrate at night when there isn't much light available. So it wasn't clear how cryptochrome would function under these conditions in birds.

A new study led by UT Southwestern Medical Center in collaboration with SMU (Southern Methodist University), though, may have figured out the answer to that puzzle.

Researchers found that cryptochromes from migratory birds have evolved a mechanism that enhances their ability to respond to light, which can enable them to sense and respond to magnetic fields.

"We were able to show that the protein cryptochrome is extremely efficient at collecting and responding to low levels of light," said SMU chemist Brian D. Zoltowski, who was one of the lead authors of a new study on the findings. "The result of this research is that we now understand how vertebrate cryptochromes can respond to very low light intensities and function under night time conditions."

The study was published in the journal PNAS in September.

Cryptochromes are found in both plants and animals and are responsible for circadian rhythms in various species. In birds, scientists were specifically focused on learning more about an unusual eye protein called CRY4, which is part of a class of cryptochromes.

The lab of Joseph Takahashi, a circadian rhythms expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center, worked with other UT Southwestern scientists to purify and solve the crystal structure of the protein -- the first atomic structure of a photoactive cryptochrome molecule from a vertebrate. The lab of Brian Zoltowski, an expert in blue-light photoreceptors, studied the efficiency of the light-driven reactions -- identifying a pathway unique to CRY4 proteins that facilitates function under low light conditions.

Coastal birds can weather the storm, but not the sea

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

How can birds that weigh less than a AA battery survive the immense power of Atlantic hurricanes? A new study in Ecology Letters finds that these coastal birds survive because their populations can absorb impacts and recover quickly from hurricanes—even storms many times larger than anything previously observed.

"Coastal birds are often held up as symbols of vulnerability to hurricanes and oil spills, but many populations can be quite resilient to big disturbances," explains lead author Dr. Christopher Field, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland's National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). "The impacts of hurricanes, in terms of populations rather than individual birds, tend to be surprisingly small compared to the other threats that are causing these species to decline."

Field and colleagues from five other universities studied the resilience of four species of coastal birds, including the endangered Saltmarsh Sparrow. The researchers developed simulations that allowed them to explore how disturbances like hurricanes would affect the birds' populations over time. They started with models that project population sizes into the future based on the species' birth and death rates. The research team then subjected these populations to simulated hurricanes that killed a certain number of birds. Because they were using computational simulations, the researchers were able to look at the full range of potential hurricane sizes—from storms that caused no bird deaths to storms that were more severe than anything ever observed.

Tiny penguin's clean bill of health after epic NZ-Australia swim

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

The bird was so underweight it had to be gradually reintroduced to food and the water

A tiny penguin that made the mammoth journey from New Zealand to Australia has been nursed back to health and released into the wild—in the hope it will find its own way home.

The emaciated Fiordland penguin was found struggling on rocks near Lorne, south of Melbourne, about 2,500km (1,500 miles) from its native habitat of New Zealand.

Melbourne Zoo head of veterinary services Michael Lynch said the bird was so underweight it had to be gradually reintroduced to food and the water over several weeks.

"Over time it began to put on weight again," he said.

"We then started to reintroduce it to water when it was strong enough to swim to help build up some muscle."

Fiordland penguins are known to swim large distances to forage for food, sometimes even spending so long in the ocean that they grow barnacles on their tails.

They are classified as a threatened species, with an estimated 5,000 left in the wild.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Injured seagull photographed with arrow embedded in head in Elgin

A seagull has been photographed with an arrow embedded in its head in Elgin.

The injured bird is said to still be flying around, after it was spotted at the Moray town's Cooper Park on Tuesday.

It was photographed by Lesley Morrison, who told the BBC Scotland news website: "It was normal looking, until it turned around. Then it flew off."

The Scottish SPCA said the incident was "very concerning", and warned it was a criminal offence.

Keen nature photographer Mrs Morrison said: "I have always got the camera just in case.

"It was there for ages walking about, pecking away. Then I saw this sold-looking arrow - it was well-embedded.

"It seemed perfect if it did not have this in its head. It must have missed the important organs."
'Protected by law'

Scottish SPCA animal rescue officer Aimee Findlay, appealing for information about the incident, said: "We have received a report of a gull with an arrow through its head in Elgin. The gull is still able to fly so we haven't been able to contain it.

"We are very concerned for its wellbeing and are keen to treat it as soon as possible to prevent infection and further injury and suffering.

"In July, we investigated a report of a gull with an arrow through its body in Ross-shire.

"This is very concerning. We want to make it clear that gulls, like all birds, are protected by law and it is a criminal offence to deliberately injure or kill a gull."

Global warming makes it harder for birds to mate, study finds

SEPTEMBER 17, 2019

New research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University of Porto (CIBIO-InBIO) shows how global warming could reduce the mating activity and success of grassland birds.

The study examined the threatened grassland bird Tetrax tetrax, or little bustard, classified as a vulnerable species in Europe, in order to test how rising temperatures could affect future behavior.

The males spend most of their time in April and May trying to attract females in a breeding gathering known as a lek. In leks, to get noticed, males stand upright, puff up their necks, and making a call that sounds like a 'snort." They also use this display to defend their territory from competing breeding males.

The international team of researchers—from the UK, Kenya, Portugal, Spain and Brazil—found that high temperatures reduced this snort-call display behavior. If temperatures become too hot, birds may have to choose between mating and sheltering or resting to save their energy and protect themselves from the heat.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the findings show that during the mating season little bustard display behavior is significantly related to temperature, the time of the day—something referred to as circadian rhythms—and what stage of the mating season it is. The average temperature during the day also affects how much birds display and again as temperatures increase, display rates reduce.

March of the multiple penguin genomes

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

by GigaScience

The Penguin Genome Consortium sequences all living penguin species genomes to understand the evolution of life on the ice

Published today in the open-access journal GigaScience is an article that presents the first effort to capture the entirety of the genomic landscape of all living penguin species. The Penguin Genome Consortium —bringing together researchers from China, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, the UK, the US, France and Germany— has produced 19 high-coverage penguin genome sequences that, together with two previously published genomes, encompass all surviving penguin species. This extensive study provides an unparalleled amount of information that covers an entire biological order, which will promote research in a wide variety of areas from evolution to the impact of human activities and environmental changes.

Penguins are a diverse order of species that span the Southern hemisphere, ranging from the Galápagos Islands on the equator, to the oceanic temperate forests of New Zealand, to the rocky coastlines of the sub-Antarctic islands, finally reaching the sea-ice around Antarctica. This iconic bird group have transitioned from flying seabirds to powerful, flightless marine divers. With their specialized skin and feathers and an enhanced thermoregulation system they are able to inhabit environments from the extreme cold Antarctic sea ice to the tropical Galápagos Islands.

Scientists discover one of world's oldest bird species at Waipara, New Zealand

SEPTEMBER 17, 2019

The ancestor of some of the largest flying birds ever has been found in Waipara, North Canterbury.

Bony-toothed birds (Pelagornithids), an ancient family of huge seafaring birds, were thought to have evolved in the Northern Hemisphere—but that theory has been upended by the discovery of the family's oldest, but smallest member in New Zealand.

At 62 million-years-old, the newly-discovered Protodontopteryx ruthae, is one of the oldest named bird species in the world. It lived in New Zealand soon after the dinosaurs died out.

While its descendants were some of the biggest flying birds ever, with wingspans of more than 5 meters, Protodontopteryx ruthae was only the size of an average gull. Like other members of its family, the seabird had bony, tooth-like projections on the edge of its beak.

The seabird fossil was identified by the same team that recently announced the discovery of a 1.6 meter-high giant penguin from the same site.

Amateur paleontologist Leigh Love found the partial Protodontopteryx skeleton last year at the Waipara Greensand fossil site. The bird was named Protodontopteryx ruthae after Love's wife Ruth. Love wanted to thank her for tolerating his decades-long passion for paleontology.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Survival of the chickest: the unlikely battle of the urban brush turkey

Australian researchers are trying to understand how the birds, which receive no parental care, survive against all odds in big cities

Mon 9 Sep 2019 05.39 BST Last modified on Mon 9 Sep 2019 05.40 BST

The chicks are considered “hors d’oeuvres” of the bird world and now Sydney scientists need public help trying to understand how brush turkeys survive against the odds in urban environments.

Brush turkeys’ six-month breeding season kicked off in July and a team of researchers from the University of Sydney and Taronga Zoo have put out a call for community sightings of nesting mounds, breeding activities and chick hatchings across New South Wales and Queensland.

John Martin, an honorary associate at the University of Sydney, said the birds use an ancient nesting method of laying eggs in mounds and the heat of decomposing vegetation incubates them ahead of hatching.

Similar to sea turtles, the chicks receive no parental care, Martin said.

“If you think about the urban environment with cats, dogs, foxes, roads, birds of prey, snakes, not to mention kids, it seems unlikely that they would be an urban survivor,” he told Guardian Australia.

Conservation of a Central American region is critical for migrating birds

Date: September 12, 2019
Source: Oxford University Press USA

Many of North America's migratory birds are declining, but the mysteries about when and how birds migrate must to be solved to effectively protect them. A new paper in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, published by Oxford University Press, identifies a previously overlooked area that is critical for conservation: the region between southern Mexico and Guatemala where songbirds fuel up for a grueling flight across the Gulf of Mexico.

Migration is a dangerous time for birds, especially during flights over large bodies of water. Many birds migrate directly across the Gulf of Mexico, requiring over 600 miles of sustained flight. The details of how the survivors manage this feat of endurance have been murky, especially for species like warblers, whose small size prevented researchers from tracking their full migration routes until recently.

Researchers used light-weight geolocators to identify migration strategies for the vulnerable and declining Golden-winged Warbler, finding 80% of individuals spent a week in southern Mexico and Guatemala to feed and build up reserves for the flight over the Gulf of Mexico in spring migration. The importance of this stopover region was previously unknown for this species, and it needs conservation given the rapid conversion of natural habitats to pasture and farmland.

While most Golden-winged Warblers stopped in this region, not all did. Some that overwintered in northern Central America were able to make the trans-Gulf flight directly from their overwintering grounds without the stopover. "This is an important finding," says Dr. Ruth Bennett of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, "because birds that migrated directly across the Gulf were able to shave a week off their total migration time. These birds may experience a selective advantage in the spring." That is because male Golden-winged Warblers race north in spring migration to establish breeding territories. Results from the study suggest the spring period requires more energy and poses a greater risk of predation and starvation, while fall migration allows for more flexibility to minimize energy costs and avoid risks.

Controversial insecticides shown to threaten survival of wild birds

Date: September 12, 2019
Source: University of Saskatchewan

New research at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) shows how the world's most widely used insecticides could be partly responsible for a dramatic decline in songbird populations.

A study published in the journal Science on Sept. 13 is the first experiment to track the effects of a neonicotinoid pesticide on birds in the wild.

The study found that white-crowned sparrows who consumed small doses of an insecticide called imidacloprid suffered weight loss and delays to their migration -- effects that could severely harm the birds' chances of surviving and reproducing.

"We saw these effects using doses well within the range of what a bird could realistically consume in the wild -- equivalent to eating just a few treated seeds," said Margaret Eng, a post-doctoral fellow in the USask Toxicology Centre and lead author on the study.

Eng's collaborators on the research were biologist Bridget Stutchbury of York University and Christy Morrissey, an ecotoxicologist in the USask College of Arts and Science and the School of Environment and Sustainability.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

‘Unusual’ number of snowy plovers found dead in riding areas of Oceano Dunes last month

SEPTEMBER 08, 2019 05:00 AM, UPDATED SEPTEMBER 08, 2019 12:00 PM

State Parks is urging riders to be cautious in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area after an “unusual number” of protected snowy plovers were found dead in the riding area of the park last month.

Four snowy plovers were found dead in the SVRA park in the final weeks of August, according to Senior Environmental Scientist Ronnie Glick.

“It is unusual to have that many birds found in the course of a short time period,” Glick told The Tribune in a phone interview Friday.

The four were found between Aug. 19 and Aug. 28. According to Glick, one of the bodies found was too old to be able to determine the cause, while the other three were fresher specimens.

Two of the birds were found in tire tracks in the sand, with evidence of being flattened, while another was found in an area with recent tire tracks, but not in said tracks, according to reports filed with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“If a bird were to be hit, it would be a violation of the Endangered Species Act, and that is a big deal,” Glick said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a big enough staff to watch all these birds every hour of the day.”

If someone were visibly observed by a State Parks worker to hit a snowy plover — something that Glick said he did not believe had ever happened at the park — law enforcement would be called in to determine if if that person were driving negligently or in violation of any of the park’s rules.

Cox's Sandpiper: the species that never was


In 1996, what was until then one of the world's rarest birds, Cox's Sandpiper, began to disappear from field guides and national lists. However, this was not another sad tale of human neglect leading to the extinction of a formerly widespread species. There was another reason the form was so rare: it was not a species at all. It was a hybrid between two well-known and widely distributed waders familiar to British birders: Curlew Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper.

The saga of Cox's Sandpiper began in 1955. The first-ever vagrant Dunlins for Australia had been claimed and accepted, particularly as the species had predicted in the past, but as up to 20 records accumulated (some more convincing than others), some of the birds were considered to look anomalous. Australian ornithologist (and English immigrant) John Cox attempted to solve the ever-growing conundrum by collecting two specimens of this clearly rare form in 1975 and 1977 for the South Australian Museum.

Court protects ‘British’ Curlews from French hunting plan

Bird Notes columnist Julian Hughes of RSPB Cymru reveals what birds have been spotted in the past week, and lists seven upcoming wildlife events

Andrew ForgraveRural Affairs Editor
23:50, 2 SEP 2019

Fans of one of Wales’ fastest declining birds are celebrating after the Conseil d’Etat ruled that no Curlews can be hunted in France this winter.

A few weeks earlier, the French government had ignored its own advisers and announced that 6,000 of the wading birds could be shot this season.

Conservationists in the UK were outraged, since many Curlews that winter on the French coast breed on moorlands in Britain and Ireland .

The Welsh Ornithological Society and RSPB were among organisations that wrote to the French environment minister calling for a previous moratorium on hunting Curlews to be renewed.

Meanwhile, BirdLife International has called on the French government to cancel a hunt of 18,000 Turtle Doves this autumn.

Britain’s Turtle Dove population has fallen by 95% in the last 30 years, and the European Commission has started proceedings against France for failing to protect the birds.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


22nd August 2019 07:45

A pair of white-tailed eagles have been reintroduced to the Isle of Wight this week for the first time in 240 years, with a further 4 eagles to be released today (Thursday).

The huge birds of prey, which can boast a wingspan of up to 8ft, were released in a secret location yesterday (Wednesday) and a further 4 will be let out into the wild this week. It is hoped that a total of 60 birds will be released over the next 5 years at a cost of £250,000.

As previously reported by Island Echo, the Forestry Commission and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation have been working together to reintroduce these animals to the South and, more specifically, the Isle of Wight. The plans were originally announced in October 2018 and a licence was granted in April of this year.

It will take several years for the young birds to become established and breeding is not expected to start until at least 2024. However, over the next month or so the animals will start to disperse across the Island and will become a regular sight thereafter. During this time the birds will be closely monitored using satellite tracking devices and data on the movement of the birds will eventually be made available on the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website.

Meet the Lazarus Birds: 5 species once presumed extinct

3 Sep 2019

The dramatic rediscovery of the Antioquia Brush-finch – a species unseen for almost half a century – hit the headlines this past April. However, such incredible returns, although rare, are not unheard of. We explore some of the most miraculous examples of recent times, and what they teach us about the danger of presuming a species is extinct.
By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

Talk about the mundanity of miracles: in January of last year, while on his way to Sunday Mass, a flash of rust-coloured crown caught the eye of the Colombian researcher Rodolfo Correa Peña. Here, skulking in a few patches of shrubland in this small town on the outskirts of Medellin – a city of over 2.5 million people, remember – was a species no-one had seen since 1971.

The story of the Antioquia Brush-finch Atlapetes blancae is fascinating, but by no means unique in ornithological circles. Indeed, 47 years is a blink of an eye when compared to the likes of the Cerulean Paradise-flycatcher Eutrichomyias rowleyi of Sangihe, Indonesia, which was rediscovered in the island’s forested valleys in December 1978; an incredible 100 years after the only other known specimen was collected in 1878.

These stunning returns often raise more questions than answers. How did they go unnoticed for so long, and how did we know where to look? And now that we’ve found them, what are their chances of long-term survival? And, most tantalisingly, what other possibly extinct species could still be out there? These miracle ‘back from the dead’ stories are the reason why BirdLife, as the authority of birds for the IUCN Red List, is loath to declare a species extinct until we’re sure researchers have combed through every last patch of viable habitat.

Read more

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Building blocks of bird babble identified


A new study by an international team headed by the University of Zurich sheds light on whether animal vocalizations, like human words, are constructed from smaller building blocks. By analyzing calls of the Australian chestnut-crowned babbler, the researchers have for the first time identified the meaning-generating building blocks of a non-human communication system.

Stringing together meaningless sounds to create meaningful signals is a core feature of human language. Investigating whether animals share this basic combinatorial ability has been complicated by difficulties in identifying whether animal vocalizations are made from smaller, meaningless sounds, or building blocks. New research by scientists at the Universities of Zurich, Exeter, Warwick, Macquarie and New South Wales has addressed this question in the calls of the chestnut-crowned babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps)—a highly social bird from the Australian Outback.

Meaningful calls composed of distinct sounds

Previous research demonstrated that chestnut-crowned babbler calls seemed to be composed of two different sounds "A" and "B" in different arrangements when performing specific behaviors. When flying, the birds produced a flight call "AB," but when feeding chicks in the nest they emitted "BAB" provisioning calls. In the current study, the authors used playback experiments, previously used to test speech-sound discrimination in human infants, to probe the perception of the sound elements in babblers. "Through systematic comparisons we tested which of the elements babblers perceived as equivalent or different sounds. In doing so, we were able to confirm that the calls could be broken up into two perceptually distinct sounds that are shared across the calls in different arrangements," explains Sabrina Engesser from the University of Zurich, lead author on the study. "Furthermore, none of the comprising elements carried the meaning of the calls, confirming the elements are meaningless," she adds.

Warning signs in a poisonous Papuan songbird

SEPTEMBER 10, 2019

Bright colors and conspicuous markings are often used in nature to warn off would-be predators. While we are used to seeing such markings—termed aposematic signals—in plants, caterpillars and snakes, we do not usually think of colorful bird plumage as conveying the same message. However, members of the New Guinea songbird genus Pitohui use their plumage to warn predators that they are toxic.

Aposematic coloration often gives rise to so-called Müllerian mimicry rings, in which multiple toxic species evolve to resemble each other, as a mutual form of protection. The theory is that predators will more quickly learn to avoid all of the species in the ring, with less of a cost to each species. While these rings are common in butterflies and other insects, they are less common among vertebrates where the genetic basis of these traits is often unknown. This is certainly true for pitohuis, one of the few toxic birds on Earth. In a new article in Genome Biology and Evolution titled "Gene flow in the Müllerian mimicry ring of a poisonous Papuan songbird clade (Pitohui; Aves)," an international team of researchers from the National University of Singapore, Biology Centre CAS in the Czech Republic, and the New Guinea Binatang Research Centre set out to unravel the genetic basis and evolutionary history of pitohuis' colorful plumage.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Slowed metabolism helps migrating geese soar

Date:  September 3, 2019
Source: eLife

Researchers have shed new light on how some geese can fly high for long periods of time, according to a study published today in eLife.

The team collected the first ever cardiorespiratory measurements of bar-headed geese flying in a wind tunnel at a simulated altitude of 9,000m. They discovered that the animals are able to maintain flight in these low-oxygen conditions via a reduction in their metabolism.

Bar-headed geese are famed for migratory flight at extreme altitudes, having been directly tracked flying as high as 7,290m, and anecdotally reported reaching 9,000m. Previous research suggests these birds have several adaptations that allow them to maximise their oxygen usage at high altitudes, such as the ability to deliver oxygen efficiently to individual cells. But until now, no studies have comprehensively measured the physiology of bar-headed geese during flight in low-oxygen conditions, partly because there are few wind tunnels in the world suitable to carry out such experiments.

To address this gap in our knowledge, a research team from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, Canada, imprinted a flock of bar-headed geese born and raised at sea-level, and trained them to fly in a wind tunnel. The group was led by Jessica Meir, a postdoctoral researcher in Bill Milsom's lab at UBC at the time the study was carried out, along with Julia York, an undergraduate researcher, currently a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, US.

Birds in serious decline at Lake Constance

Over the last 30 years, the region has lost 120,000 breeding pairs

Date: September 3, 2019
Source: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

At first glance, the numbers recorded between 1980 and 2012 appear to be quite balanced. 68 of the 158 bird species that inhabit the area around Lake Constance became more populous, while 67 species declined; each of these figures approximates to 43 percent of all the bird species in the region. The total number of species has even increased slightly: although eight species have died out, 17 have either returned to the region or settled there for the first time. These include the white stork, the peregrine falcon and the eagle owl, all of which have benefitted particularly from the protective measures put in place.

This seeming contradiction is due to the fact that the most common species are disappearing particularly rapidly. Six of the ten most common bird species around Lake Constance have declined dramatically in number, while two have remained the same and only two have increased. The population of house sparrows, for example, has declined by 50 percent since 1980, at which time it was still the most common species. "These are really shocking figures -- particularly when you consider that the bird population started declining decades before the first count in 1980," explains Hans-Günther Bauer from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior. Viewed over a lengthier period, the fall in numbers may therefore be even greater.

Native birds in South-eastern Australia worst affected by habitat loss

Date: September 3, 2019
Source: University of Queensland

New research has found that habitat loss is a major concern for hundreds of Australian bird species, and south-eastern Australia has been the worst affected.

The Threatened Species Recovery Hub study, featuring University of Queensland scientists, found that half of all native bird species have each lost almost two-thirds of their natural habitat across Victoria, parts of South Australia and New South Wales.

Lead researcher, Dr Jeremy Simmonds, said the team looked at both threatened and non-threatened birds, including common species.

"While more attention is usually paid to threatened species, common species, like many of our familiar fairy-wrens, pigeons and honeyeaters, are crucially important," Dr Simmonds said.

"Common species play a vital role in controlling insect pests and pollination and their decline through loss of habitat has implications for the health of ecosystems.

"Along with feral and invasive species, habitat destruction is among the greatest threats facing biodiversity in Australia, so it is important to understand how big the problem of habitat removal is: our research developed a method to do this, called the Loss Index.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

A Rare Greenshank Is Spotted in Russia

It is the first time in more than four decades that researchers have had an opportunity to study the endangered shorebirds.

By Karen Weintraub
Aug. 31, 2019

One of the few things known about the Nordmann’s greenshank is that it is one of the most endangered shorebirds on earth. No one had studied the bird in depth since 1976, and its nesting habitat remained a mystery.

But this summer, an American graduate student and Russian ornithologists spotted a pair of Nordmann’s greenshanks in a larch forest near a coastal bog in far eastern Russia. They shot video of one in a nest, measured and photographed four eggs and tagged seven adult birds, a few which have been spotted again as they migrated south across Asia.

“The moment of discovery — it was pure joy,” said Philipp Maleko, a graduate student at the University of Florida, who tracked the birds for nearly two months this summer, wading through the bog and forest to spot the nest. In addition to fighting off hordes of mosquitoes, the research team traveled with an armed guard to ward off bears and wolves.

Their research marked the first in-depth investigation in decades of the Nordmann’s greenshank (Tringa guttifer), a pigeon-size bird named for a 19th-century Finnish biologist and parasitologist.

The population of Nordmann’s greenshanks has been crashing in recent decades, as a result of hunting and wetland reclamation in coastal Asia. No more than 2,000 of the birds, also called the spotted greenshank, are believed to be left in the wild, said Jonathan Slaght, the Russia and Northeast Asia coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which helped lead the research effort.

Gulls across Weymouth and Portland found dead from disease

31st August

By Alex Cutler Reporter

AT LEAST 60 herring gulls have been reported dead across Weymouth and Portland following a disease outbreak.

It is understood that the birds have most likely been dying due to a suspected outbreak of avian botulism.

According to the government's Animal and Plant Health Agency, avian botulism is a paralytic and often fatal disease caused by ingestion of toxin produced by bacteria found in rotting plant and animal material.

These outbreaks are frequent in this country but are more common during hot weather and can last for weeks, resulting in several hundreds of bird deaths.

Many of the dead gulls have been found in the swannery at Radipole Lake, near to the The Gurkha restaurant in Weymouth, where there is a build up of green algae – a possible source of the outbreak.

Algae blooms are said to occur naturally in hot weather and the swannery has been affected in previous years.

Bimlashar Gurung, manager of The Gurkha restaurant, said it is starting to affect her business: "Everyone is saying it is our fault but there is nothing we can do.

"I clean up the litter and all the rubbish that everyone leaves, sometimes when our bin is full I take it home myself, but we have been told that we are not allowed to touch the dead birds.

Myanmar native bird species face extinction


Nine bird species only exclusively seen in Myanmar are facing dangers of going extinct.

There originally were eight bird species but according to the official confirmation from world's bird specialists on June 17, there are now nine bird species in Myanmar.

"It has now become nine species. The recently added breed is the Brown Prinia," said Thet Zaw Naing, from Myanmar Birds and Nature Society.

According to research from world class experts on the brown prinia birds, the Burmese prinia (prina cooki) species was classified as a separate type and was listed as a Myanmar endemic, meaning that it can only be found in Myanmar, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

According to the WCS, 46 of the world’s most threatened bird species are found in Myanmar. Eight of these species are critically endangered, 12 endangered, and 26 have been classified as vulnerable.

"International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has designated the white brown blue bird found in Natma Taung in Chin Hill as endangered species. In the list of IUCN, white brown blue bird and other two birds species are included. Even though some birds are not on the endangered list of IUCN, they are in real danger level of Myanmar. Some should be put in the list of critically endangered species. Otherwise, these species will eventually disappear in Myanmar," continued Thet Zaw Naing.

Over 10 hen harrier chicks satellite tagged this summer

Published by surfbirds on August 24, 2019 courtesy of RSPB, surfbirds archive

RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project has fitted more than 10 young hen harriers with satellite tags this summer in Scotland. The EU LIFE funded project tagged birds from the Borders to the Highlands, with the generous support and assistance from of a variety of partners, volunteers, landowners, their managers and staff, and licenced taggers from the raptor conservation community.

Hen harriers are one of our rarest and most persecuted birds of prey. The satellite tags allow the project to follow the lives of the young birds as they strike out on their own. The last British Isles hen harrier population survey in 2016 put their numbers at just 575 territorial pairs, an overall significant decline of 24 percent since 2004. Estimates suggest there should be over 1,500 pairs of hen harriers in Scotland alone.

Before tagging the chicks the project monitors hen harrier nests to understand more about how their breeding success vary year to year and why they sometimes fail. Scotland is the stronghold for these birds in the British Isles with 460 pairs according the 2016 survey.

The information gathered from birds tagged in previous years has revealed important information about how the young birds spend their first few years of life. Two of the birds tagged in Scotland last summer headed over to Ireland for the winter before returning this spring. One of the chicks tagged this year is the offspring of a female tagged in a previous year by the project, providing an opportunity to follow the species through two generations.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Martha, the last of her species, might lose that distinction if scientists have their way

Terry DeMio Cincinnati Enquirer
Published 11:31 AM EDT Aug 30, 2019

The story of Martha the passenger pigeon elicits both nostalgia and remorse for Cincinnati, the city that protected this bird, the last of her species, in a place where conservation is key.

We toast her in a massive showpiece of a mural on East Eighth Street facing Vine. Renowned wildlife artist Charley Harper has immortalized her kind in a seriagraph. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, which kept Martha comfortable in her last years, hosts a statue in her honor. Children throughout the region are taught about extinction through books about Martha. And parents and grandparents who know about the rise and fall of passenger pigeons tell their little ones about Martha.

But now, these wistful tales are evolving. 

More Marthas may be on the way.

Credit a new field of science called de-extinction biology.

A group of scientists in Sausalito, California, are working on bringing back the passenger pigeon as part of a larger effort to enhance biodiversity through new techniques of genetic rescue of both endangered and extinct animals.

"It's been really amazing," said Ben Novak, lead scientist at Revive & Restore, which is working on the revival of a very similar bird to the passenger pigeon, with the hope of reintroducing it to the forests of eastern North America.

Lest anyone fear that Jurassic Park-like monster passenger pigeons will one day inhabit the earth, no worries.

The de-extinction efforts underway don't really re-create the bird's entire DNA. Instead, scientists start by decoding DNA from extinct passenger pigeons and, through bio-technology, change the DNA code of living band-tailed pigeons to match the passenger pigeon's code. By changing enough of the code, and through tried-and-true conservation practices, scientists hope the new birds look and behave the same way that their historic counterparts did.

The elusive birds attracted by this British summer, from the corncrake to the brown booby

Rachael Turner August 29, 2019

The brown booby, Savi's warbler and corncrake are among the unusual species of bird spotted in the UK this summer.

Earlier this month, birdwatchers flocked to St Ives in Cornwall to spot a brown booby, whose more regular habitats are Mexico and the Caribbean

Cornwall Bird Watching & Preservation Society (CBWPS) said it was believed to be the first sighting in the UK.

‘Brown boobies just do not belong around here,’ said Mark Grantham, chairman of the CBWPS.

‘It is one of those strange birds that sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

‘It’s probably found a good food source but with a change in the weather it might not hang around.’

Globally threatened corncrakes have also been spotted this summer.

Two pairs of the species, known for their secretive behaviour and rasping call, were recorded on Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland.

Liam McFaul, the island’s RSPB warden, said it is the first time since the 1980s that the island has two breeding males.

Meanwhile, a pair of Savi’s warblers have nested in Wales for the first time.

The birds were spotted at the Cors Ddyga reserve on Anglesey, following the successful establishment of other rare species in the same area.

Bitterns and marsh harriers have nested on the reserve for the fourth consecutive year, having been missing for several decades.

The little tern has also enjoyed a boost for its population, and 2019 has been recorded as its most successful season in almost 30 years.

The good news comes as scientists carry out a survey into seabirds in St Kilda.

The archipelago, which lies about 40 miles west of North Uist, Scotland, is home to almost a million seabirds, including gannets, shearwaters and storm petrels.

It has been almost 20 years since birds on Boreray and Soay had been surveyed, due to difficulty in landing on the islands from a boat.

Montana hailstorm slaughters 11,000 birds

Winds of 70 mph whipped baseball-sized hail at a Montana lake. Thousands of birds fell victim.

By Matthew CappucciAugust 21

Thousands of birds were killed on Aug. 11 when a destructive hailstorm lashed regions northwest of Billings, Mont. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the supercell thunderstorm “killed and maimed more than 11,000 waterfowl and wetland birds at the Big Lake Wildlife Management Area west of Molt.” Molt is about 20 miles west-northwest of Billings, Montana’s largest city.

According to the news release, biologist Justin Paugh estimates that about a quarter of the birds at the lake were injured or killed. About 5 percent of surviving ducks and a third of living pelicans/cormorants “show some sign of injury or impaired movement.”

The Storm Prediction Center had already been calling for potential large, damaging hail as early as 12 hours in advance, outlining Billings in a narrow corridor of “significant severe” potential. Their morning bulletin advised that volatile atmospheric parameters would “favor supercells initially with large hail and possibly a couple of tornadoes.” By late afternoon, storms had developed, quickly becoming severe. Some storms towered nearly 10 miles high.


Solo goose calls Sault home

Somebody hand this bird a map and ask him, or her, their plans for the fall.

A greater white-fronted goose has set up home in Sault Ste. Marie for at least three weeks.

The goose is east of its usual haunts which can range from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and even above the Arctic Circle, said Sault Naturalists president Dave Euler.

“I don’t know” what the greater white-fronted goose is doing in the Sault, Euler told The Sault Star on Tuesday. “It’s out of range.”

This bird also doesn’t have a cuckoo clock handy or a wide social network. It’s not unusual for this bird species to be in the area, but its stay is typically “a day or two and, bang, they’re gone,” said Euler. He is not aware of any other greater white-fronted geese spending time with the bird that’s been spotted at Bellevue Park and John Rhodes Community Centre. That, too, is unusual. Typically several of the geese species are together.

He suggests the lone errant traveller may have been adopted by someone in Algoma District with an affection for waterfowl. Given how long the greater white-fronted goose has stayed in the Sault it’s “probably not totally wild,” said the retired Lakehead University forestry professor.

“(The bird) found himself in love with a human somewhere and for some odd reason has just stayed around,” said Euler. “For whatever reason he left his human companion. (The bird) looks like he’s found his happy place.”

The greater white-fronted goose eats grain or grass – which is what the bird was doing when spotted by The Sault Star at Bellevue Park on Tuesday morning – and gets along with the much more numerous Canada Geese.

“A goose is a goose,” said Euler, describing the visitor to the city as “a happy goose doing its thing.”

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Will Climate Change Cause Atlantic Puffins To Starve?

Aug 26, 2019, 10:27am

Priya Shukla Contributor Science

In the 19th century, Atlantic Puffins were nearly hunted to extinction for their meat and eggs. By the early 1900s, less than five breeding pairs were recorded in Maine. But, Steve Kress founded Project Puffin at the Audubon Society in 1973 to help recover the species. After transplanting a few Puffins from a healthy colony in New Foundland onto Eastern Egg Rock Island on the southeastern edge of Maine's Muscongus Bay, Kress' team put Puffin decoys around the island to encourage fledglings to return to the Island after migrating. And, from 1997 - 2011, the number of breeding pairs on Eastern Egg Rock increased from 20 to 123.

Despite these successes, the Puffin colony on Eastern Egg Rock is not yet self-sustaining. Regular human presence is required to maintain the puffin colony and keep predators at bay. Additionally, interns are tasked with recording the fish that the Puffins are catching, as these can be indicators of not only the Puffins' health but also regional climate change.

When record-breaking temperatures of 70°F were reached in 2012 (4°F higher than what was then considered average), the Puffins' preferred prey were in short supply. The herring, haddock and hake ("forage fish") that the Puffins feed their chicks may have perished or found refuge in deeper, cooler water not accessible to the puffins. These species are also sought after by lobster fishers for bait and may have made catching prey especially difficult.

New insights into genetic basis of bird migration

AUGUST 28, 2019

by Gail Mccormick, Pennsylvania State University

A gene newly associated with the migratory patterns of golden-winged and blue-winged warblers could lend insight into the longstanding question of how birds migrate across such long distances.

A new study led by researchers at Penn State and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the first to combine whole genome sequencing and migration tracking technology to pinpoint a single geneassociated with the complex suite of traits that determine migratory behavior. These findings may have important conservation implications for the declining populations of golden-winged warblers. The paper appears online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and describes the gene, which is associated with a neurological disorder in humans.

"The great migrations of the world have been inspiring people for hundreds of years," said David Toews, assistant professor of biology at Penn State and leader of the research team. "The migration of birds is particularly fascinating because small species primarily navigate alone, at night, and at high altitudes, so people do not always see it happening. They are in your backyard, and then they are gone."

Migration programming in birds is incredibly complex, encompassing a suite of neurological, physiological, and behavioral traits. Researchers have known for a few decades that there is a genetic component to migration. Recent studies in birds have identified large regions of the genome, encompassing hundreds of genes, associated with migration, but it has been more difficult to pinpoint the specific roles of any single gene.

Shameless thief or good forest citizen? Weka bring hidden benefits to New Zealand forests

AUGUST 28, 2019

Weka are often portrayed as little more than sandwich-stealing scallywags. The large, brown flightless bird's tendency to be curious and gobble any food available (whether it be an unwatched biscuit, penguin egg or endangered gecko) also makes them troublesome for conservationists. However, a new study by University of Canterbury and Department of Conservation researchers has found that these charismatic birds also perform important services for Aotearoa New Zealand forests.

Although birds like the kererū (wood pigeon) tend to get credit for dispersing seeds, it turns out weka are important seed dispersers for some New Zealand plants. They eat the fruits of many plant species, and have a large beak that allows them to also eat fruits that smaller birds can't manage. A new study, published today in Royal Society Open Science, found that weka even disperse some seeds as far as kererū do.

"You might think that because weka are flightless they wouldn't be very good at moving seeds large distances," says lead author Jo Carpenter, a University of Canterbury (UC) Ecology Ph.D. student now based at Manaaki Whenua | Landcare Research. "But it turned out they were dispersing a small proportion of seeds over two kilometres—that's a long way for a seed."

The researchers investigated how far weka moved seeds by attaching GPS transmitters to over 40 birds, then figuring out how long it took seeds to pass through weka. By understanding how long it takes a seed to typically pass through a weka, they could model how far seeds eaten by weka would be travelling. Because some seeds stay inside the birds as long as six weeks, the weka can deposit them far from where they were eaten.

Birds of a feather flock together, but only in similar climates

AUGUST 28, 2019

One might assume that birds of flight are cosmopolitan travelers, and bird species should be distributed far and wide, spread across long distances—continents even. However, a study led by Alex White, Ph.D., a former University of Chicago graduate student now at National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C, shows that a bird has strong ties to the climate patterns of its habitat. As a result, the geographical distribution of birds may be more restricted than we think.

Bird's eye view

Scrutinize the distribution of birds across the globe and it is obvious that land birds, for example, have ranges that abruptly end at coastlines. You may not notice a similar turnover of bird species within continents, but in fact one is present at the freezing line, the boundary between the tropics and cooler, temperate areas. White's study shows that despite no significant physical barriers stopping them from spreading out, bird species are strongly confined to their habitats as demarcated by the freezing line.

Nowhere in the world does the freezing line loom as drastically as the Himalayas. Here, though, it is not the world's tallest mountain peaks that serve as the boundaries of avian habitats and movement. Instead, it is the freezing line, which cuts across the subalpine slopes at an elevation of about 1600 m, less than a fifth of the way up to Mount Everest's peak.

White conducted the study as part of his Ph.D. thesis at UChicago, working with advisor Trevor Price, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolution. Focusing on the Himalayas, they examined the distribution of 305 species of open-habitat and tree-dwelling birds out of the known 621 species present in the region. The numbers of species were estimated from reported sightings and vocalizations across 38 sites in the Himalayan forests. This survey was performed over a ten-year period during the annual warm breeding months, when seasonal migrant birds were present and species numbers were at their highest.