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, 2 April 2020

When warblers warn of cowbirds, blackbirds get the message

MARCH 31, 2020

This is the story of three bird species and how they interact. The brown-headed cowbird plays the role of outlaw: It lays its eggs in other birds' nests and lets them raise its young—often at the expense of the host's nestlings. To combat this threat, yellow warblers have developed a special "seet" call that means, "Look out! Cowbird!"

In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign report that red-winged blackbirds respond to the seet call as if they know what it means.

"Does this mean red-winged blackbirds understand that the call is specific to cowbirds or are they just responding to a general alarm?" said graduate student Shelby Lawson, who led the study with Mark Hauber, a professor of evolution, ecology and behavior at the U. of I. The researchers sought to answer that question by playing back the calls of several bird species in warbler and blackbird territories to see how the birds reacted.

They report their findings in the journal Communications Biology.

"We know that eavesdropping on the calls of other species is common across the animal kingdom," Lawson said. "Birds do it. Mammals do it. There are studies of different primates that do it—and even birds that listen in when they do."

In the rainforests of Ivory Coast, for example, tropical birds known as hornbills have deciphered some of the calls of the Diana monkey. The hornbills ignore the monkeys' alarm calls for ground predators, which are no threat to the birds, but heed the monkeys' calls for hawks, which are predators of hornbills.

Housing developer spends £400,000 on new home for 10 rare birds in Torbay

Developers have to carry out measures to make up for wildlife habitat loss under planning rules

14:31, 10 MAR 2020

Councillors have approved plans for a new housing estate in Devon which include the developer paying more than £400,000 to create an alternative home for rare birds.

Torbay Council’s planning committee voted in favour of the detailed plans for 187 homes on a site on the edge of Paignton at Yannon’s Farm, south of Yalberton Road off Brixham Road, which already had outline permission.

As part of the scheme, the developer Barratt Homes (Exeter) Ltd is paying £437,500 to provide an alternative breeding habitat for five pairs of cirl buntings, a rare finch-like bird once common in the south of England but now only found in south Devon.

There will also be an area of 2.5 hectares of open land to the south of the housing site to provide a habitat for one pair of the birds, with the developer contributing towards monitoring the land for 25 years.

Developers have to carry out measures to make up for wildlife habitat loss under planning rules.

American robins now migrate 12 days earlier than in 1994

APRIL 1, 2020

Every spring, American robins migrate north from all over the U.S. and Mexico, flying up to 250 miles a day to reach their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska. There, they spend the short summer in a mad rush to find a mate, build a nest, raise a family, and fatten up before the long haul back south.

Now climate change is making seasonal rhythms less predictable, and springtime is arriving earlier in many parts of the Arctic. Are robins changing the timing of their migration to keep pace, and if so, how do they know when to migrate? Although many animals are adjusting the timing of their migration, the factors driving these changes in migratory behavior have remained poorly understood.

A new study, published in Environmental Research Letters, concludes that robin migration is kicking off earlier by about five days each decade. The study is also the first to reveal the environmental conditions along the migration route that help the birds keep up with the changing seasons. Lead author Ruth Oliver completed the work while earning her doctorate at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

At Canada's Slave Lake, a pit stop for migrating birds, researchers have been recording spring migration timing for a quarter century. Their visual surveys and netting censuses revealed that robins have been migrating about five days earlier per decade since 1994.

In order to understand what factors are driving the earlier migration, Oliver and Lamont associate research professor Natalie Boelman, a coauthor on the paper, knew they needed to take a look at the flight paths of individual robins.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Nightingales may become increasingly rare as climate change alters their wingspan, study finds

The endangered birds, famous for their whistling crescendos, may struggle to fly from Africa to Europe to breed in the spring

ByPhoebe Southworth31 March 2020 • 5:54pm

Nightingales singing in Berkeley Square could become an increasingly rare sight, as climate change is reducing their wingspan and disrupting their migration patterns, a study has found.

The endangered birds, famous for their whistling crescendos, may struggle to fly from Africa to Europe to breed in the spring because warmer temperatures are making their wings smaller, the research by Spanish zoologists concluded.

A reduced wingspan means the nightingales will need to flap more to stay above ground, tiring them out faster and making their migration route more arduous.

This could potentially lead to fewer attempting the journey or an increased number dying on the way, the study suggests.

The species is already under threat, with their population in the UK falling by 90 per cent in the last 50 years.

Their rare beauty inspired one of John Keats' most famous poems, Ode to a Nightingale, as well as the romantic wartime song A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.

The researchers analysed 20 years worth of data in the study, comparing wing length relative to body size with survival in two populations of nightingales from central Spain.

Spaceport would threaten rare wildlife, RSPB warns

Mike Merritt
Wednesday April 01 2020, 12.00am, The Times

A major blow has been dealt to Britain’s first vertical launch spaceport, which is planned for Sutherland.

RSPB Scotland has officially objected to the scheme, saying it would threaten breeding dunlin, greenshank, golden plover and red-throated diver bird populations.

The organisation also said there had been a lack of detailed information over the £17.3 million scheme, including insufficiently robust surveys and uncertain mitigation measures to protect wildlife. It also had concerns over peatlands in the area.

Wildlife is thriving as lockdown leaves countryside deserted

PUBLISHED: 12:16 31 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:16 31 March 2020

Wildlife has found new space to breathe in Norfolk’s countryside as the coronavirus lockdown gives nature a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to thrive without human disturbance.

While people are confined to their homes, weasels have been spotted venturing onto once-crowded pathways, oystercatchers are nesting on deserted beaches, and sparrowhawks are circling for prey above areas which were attracting thousands of visitors just a few weeks ago.

The Holkham Estate in north Norfolk usually welcomes more than a million people every year to its famous beach and its 9,600-acre national nature reserve, the biggest in England.

Conservation manager Jake Fiennes said it was now a “very surreal” scene as the footfall vanished overnight after the estate closed its hall, shops, visitor centre and car parks – part of the national effort to contain the spread of the virus.

But he said he was excited to see what the result would be as the breeding season begins on the dunes, salt marsh and grassland – but particularly on the beach, where he believes the biggest impact will be felt.

More than 1,500 farmers record 25 red-listed bird species

31 March 2020 | by FarmingUK Team | News, Renewables and Environment

More than 1,500 farmers across Britain made 2020 Big Farmland Bird Count the biggest since it launched with 25 red-listed species recorded.

Farmers battled through the worst winter flooding in recent years to show they are at the forefront of conservation efforts.

They recorded more than 120 species across 1.4 million acres in the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) initiative this February.

Twenty-five red-listed species were recorded, with nine featuring in the 25 most-commonly seen species.

Of these, fieldfares, starlings, linnets and lapwings were the four most abundant red listed species recorded with over 67,000 in total, which equates to 24% of all species spotted.

The five most abundant birds seen were woodpigeons, starlings, lapwings, black-headed gulls and rooks.

Due to storms Ciara and Dennis hitting both weekends of the count, organisers extended the count window by a week in response to calls from farmers who wanted to take part but couldn’t do so.

“The fact we received a record-breaking number of count returns despite Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis wreaking havoc for many farm businesses is remarkable,” said Roger Draycott, GWCT head of advisory who took on responsibility for co-ordinating this year’s count.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Puffins return to Rathlin Island a day early

Staff Reporter

March 27 2020 06:45 AM

Rathlin Island's punctual puffins turned up a day early this year, but there was a good reason.

The return of puffins is an eagerly awaited event each spring on Northern Ireland's only inhabited offshore island. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the first Rathlin puffins were seen on the same date, March 27. But this year, they were spotted yesterday, March 26, by island residents and RSPB Northern Ireland workers Hazel Watson and Ric Else.

As they approached the cliffs, they could see and hear that there had been a big arrival of seabirds. And there, among thousands of guillemots and razorbills, they spotted a pair of orange feet.

While the date may be one day earlier than previous years, the RSPB pointed out that this was a leap year, so it could be argued that the puffins were perfectly on schedule once again.

Belfast Telegraph

Coronavirus: Police send home twitchers searching for rare bird

26 March 2020

Birdwatchers who flocked to a beauty spot in Gloucestershire to catch a glimpse of a rare bird have been sent home, police have said.

About 15 twitchers from across England congregated at an undisclosed spot in Cleeve Common, near Cheltenham, after the ring ouzel was reportedly spotted.

Ignoring the government's advice, the group had travelled from as far as Birmingham to see the bird.

The RSPB said it was "totally unacceptable" in the current situation.

Following the government crackdown on social distancing, people are being asked to stay at home, not travel unnecessarily and not gather in groups of more than two people.

'Go home'

Police said 10 cars and 15 people had set themselves up next to one another with long-sighted cameras and binoculars.

Wildlife crime officer PC Nick Westmacott said: "All of their details were obtained, and they were politely told to go home.

"On checking where they had travelled from, they had come from Birmingham, Swindon, Gloucester, Cheltenham and some from local Cotswold areas.

How Harewood House is marking 50 years of bird conservation

It may have had to postpone its reopening, but Harewood House is now encouraging visitors to get back to virtual nature to mark 50 years of conservation work. Sarah Freeman reports.

Sunday, 29th March 2020, 6:50 am

Mention Harewood House is home to a zoo and even regular visitors to the stately home will look a little blank. They’ve explored every corner of the grand 18th century pile, they’ve soaked up the Robert Adam-designed interiors and they can wax lyrical about how the Terrace Gallery has become one of the North’s leading showcases for contemporary art.

The zoo, however, is less well-known even though they’ve probably walked through it a dozen times or more.

“The Harewood Bird Garden is a licensed zoo and has been ever since it opened in 1970,” says Nick Dowling, the estate’s bird garden and farm experience manager. “It’s home to more than 40 different species of birds and we run some world-leading conservation programmes here. However, I think over recent years we have forgotten to shout about what we do.”

In the next 12 months all that is set to change. Before anyone had heard of social distancing and self-isolation, the team at Harewood had planned a year-long programme of events to celebrate the bird garden’s 50th anniversary.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

DNA project could save capercaillie from extinction

23rd March

A throwback from the Ice Age, in recent years capercaillies have been a dwindling feature of Scotland’s pine forests. 

Now the country’s rarest game bird - the largest of the grouse family which boasts a wingspan of more than a metre – could be rescued by the most modern of methods.

DNA extracted from capercaillie feathers and other material found at brood sites in Cairngorm forests is playing a key role in helping to pinpoint how many of the rare birds remain in the wild and helping to form strategies for their future protection. 

However, it is already feared that numbers have dropped so low, that the birds’ are already facing a “genetic bottleneck” raising concerns over their ability to adapt and survive in the face of climate change.

That has raised the possibility of birds being introduced from other European locations to strengthen and support the native population. A similar suggestion has been made by conservationists working to save the Scottish wildcat.

Capercaillie DNA work is being done by scientists at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), at its WildGenes Laboratory, which has also carried out genetic work research on Scotland’s red squirrel, white-tailed eagle and golden eagle populations. 

Action plan to save Bolivia’s red-fronted macaw awaits its reboot

by Yvette Sierra Praeli on 24 March 2020 | Translated by Alexandra Skinner

Nature reserves involving the participation of indigenous communities have developed tourism projects for bird-watching and succeeded in curbing the capture of the red-fronted macaw, a critically endangered species that is often caught up in the illegal wildlife trade.

The Bolivian government has been promoting an action plan to conserve the species, which was expected to be approved last year.

Following President Evo Morales’s removal from office and the subsequent change in government late last year, the plan is still awaiting approval.

For 13 years, Marlene Rivas has been part of a team working to protect the red-fronted macaw (Ara rubrogenysa), a bird endemic to Bolivia that is classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

“Before, we didn’t take care of the birds. We didn’t know they were in danger of extinction. Red-fronted macaws were captured as pets and killed because they damaged crops,” Rivas says about some of the factors pushing the species to the verge of extinction.

Now, she says, residents of the towns of San Carlos, Amaya and Perereta, in Omereque municipality, Cochabamba department, are proud to have the bird in their area. The towns are part of the Red-Fronted Macaw Nature Reserve, one of the areas dedicated to the conservation of this species.

Read on

Friday, 27 March 2020

Little blue penguin 'slaughter' prompts call for TDC dog control bylaw change

Cherie Sivignon13:24, Mar 13 2020

Dog attacks are a threat to the little blue penguin population in Golden Bay.

Little blue penguins are being slaughtered by dogs on the beaches of Golden Bay, Tasman District councillors have been told.

Mohua Blue Penguin Trust chairwoman Cynthia McConville on Thursday told councillors at a regulatory committee meeting in Murchison that the council's Dog Control Bylaw "doesn't actually control dogs".

"It fails to protect our penguins," McConville said during the public forum section of the meeting, urging an early review of the bylaw. "Dog attacks on kororā must stop."

The council's Dog Control Bylaw was last reviewed in 2014 and is next due for review in 2024. However, there have been several calls to bring that review forward. In August 2019, the Golden Bay Community Board recommended amendments to the bylaw be introduced early in the 2019-22 term of council.

Standing Guard: Saviours of the hooded grebe

Standing Guard: Saviours of the hooded grebe

This story originally appeared on bioGraphic, an online magazine about nature and sustainability powered by the California Academy of Sciences.

Every December on the remote basaltic plateaus of southern Patagonia in Argentina, hooded grebes (Podiceps gallardoi) settle in to lay their eggs. Nearby, their personal guardians, field technicians charged with protecting the birds and their nests, stand watch. Armed with binoculars, flashlights, and shotguns, the guardians do whatever they can to eliminate threats to the grebes, although some perils are harder to see than others.

It is an extreme endeavour that requires both patience and warm clothing, says Ignacio "Kini" Roesler, a conservation biologist and ornithologist with Aves Argentinas, an environmental nonprofit in Buenos Aires, one of two main groups dedicated to protecting the hooded grebe. At up to 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) in elevation, the Patagonia steppe is a flat, open desert, dotted with more than a thousand glacial lakes, surrounded by rocky bluffs and framed by the Andes in the distance. The weather here is always harsh – windy and cold, even in the South American summer, when the hooded grebes build their nests on vegetation floating on the lakes.

The work of a colony guardian can be lonely. Other than a teammate or two for company, there is nobody around for hundreds of kilometres, and field stints in this harsh environment can last for weeks at a time. Despite the hardships, though, guardians are regularly reminded that their work is critical. "You are taking all this responsibility for the conservation of species," Roesler says. "So, it's pretty good actually – the feeling."

RSPB launches Breakfast Birdwatch


The RSPB has begun a daily 'lockdown' Breakfast Birdwatch, with everyone welcome to take part over the coming weeks.

The Breakfast Birdwatch takes place daily between 8 am and 9 am – at a time when, normally, many people would have been commuting to work, on the school run or otherwise engaged. Using #BreakfastBirdwatch on social media, they hope to create a friendly, supportive and engaged community who are able to share what they can see in their gardens, on their balconies, rooftops and spaces from their own homes, all the while keeping within government guidelines in relation to COVID-19.

It is vital that nature can still be enjoyed by as many people as possible, whether keen birders, parents, children, those self-isolating or anyone else able to join in. Over the coming days and weeks, the Breakfast Birdwatch will be helping people to share their wildlife encounters and provide ideas for things you can do for wildlife close to home. Furthermore, it will help people enjoy the power of spring during this difficult time.

Throughout the coming weeks, the Breakfast Birdwatch will focus on different themes and different species, helping to identify what people have seen and heard, and answering questions along the way. Those taking part are asked to include #BreakfastBirdwatch when sharing updates, photos, videos, questions and comments on social media.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Falcon drama at Salisbury Cathedral with a new egg and a lost bird

A female peregrine has been spotted on a balcony nest, but Sally, star of Springwatch, hasn’t been seen

Tue 24 Mar 2020 13.12 GMTLast modified on Tue 24 Mar 2020 19.25 GMT

The rollercoaster saga of the Salisbury Cathedral peregrine falcons is continuing this spring, with one bird protecting an egg on a balcony of the great building but another missing in action.

A female that has been visiting the balcony regularly in recent weeks has laid one egg and can be viewed hunkering down on the nest via a cathedral webcam.

Less cheerfully, a GPS tracking device that was attached to a bird, known as Sally, that used to nest at the cathedral has stopped giving out its signal. It could be that the device has stopped working or that, sadly, Sally is no more.

Phil Sheldrake, species recovery officer with the RSPB, said: “It’s great that we have an egg – and quite a bit earlier than last year.”

The female on the nest does not have an identity ring, meaning that it is not known if she is the same one that produced four eggs last year, but Sheldrake said it was highly likely that it was the same bird.

“Peregrines do not like to be overlooked,” he said. “Salisbury Cathedral sticks out like a sore thumb above the rolling countryside. It’s like a five-star hotel for them.”

Federal plan might let states kill unwanted cormorants

By KATRIANNA RAY | March 13, 2020

Capital News Service

LANSING — More than 1,000 people have submitted public comments about a proposed U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rule that would permit state wildlife agencies to authorize previously prohibited techniques to manage cormorant populations. 

They would include killing some birds.

Under the proposed rule, each state would have the power to determine how to control cormorants, a migratory aquatic bird sometimes blamed for damaging fish populations in parts of the Great Lakes. The state agencies would need to work within limits set by the Fish & Wildlife Service.

Michigan is home to around 55% of North America’s double-crested cormorant’s breeding pairs, according to the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC).

The double-crested cormorant is the most numerous and most widely distributed cormorant in North America, according to the National Audubon Society. They are the only cormorants to occur in large numbers outside of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The birds are federally protected, making it illegal to take, possess, sell, transport or purchase any part of them.

A look back at some of the biggest bird conservation stories of 2019

24 Mar 2020

A lot can happen in a year. Browse some of the most important advances in bird conservation science that happened over 2019: part of the yearly update to our flagship publication, State of the World’s Birds.

By Jessica Law

Yearly updates can be infuriating. At the end of every December, social media is flooded with humblebrags about exotic holidays, job promotions or similar successes. But we promise that some yearly updates really are important.

Every four years, we release a full update of State of the World’s Birds: BirdLife’s landmark publication, which provides a global overview of the status of bird populations, the pressures they face and the actions underway to save them. Since birds are important indicators of the planet’s overall health, this report helps decision-makers to shape the global conservation agenda.

However, a lot can happen in four years. That’s why we also produce yearly updates on key scientific and conservation developments over the past 12 months. Here are some significant advances in knowledge we’ve gained since the last State of the World’s Birds publication was released in 2018.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Oil-covered birds are being washed up at an 'alarming rate', charity warns

Monday, 23 March 2020 - Environment

Seabirds covered in oil are being washed up on the island’s beaches at an alarming rate, a charity has warned.

The Manx Wild Bird Aid charity is currently dealing with some 17 guillemots that have been picked up.

The first cases were reported on Saturday lunchtime with distressed birds found on beaches along the east coast from the Point of Ayre to Port St Mary.

It is thought the oil spill originated near Anglesey, where there have been reports of oiled seabirds for a week or more.

David Cole, of Manx Wild Bird Aid, said he had reported the issue to the Coastguard.

Marine Operations have been notified and are in touch with the UK Coastguard. A spotter plane was expected to be sent up to investigate.

Mr Cole said: ’We picked up one bird from the Point of Ayre and one bird from Port St Mary but the epicentre seems to be around Laxey and Douglas.

’We treated more from the south on Sunday so the oil spill is obviously moving with the tide.

’On Saturday we just found the birds with no reports of oil on the beach but on Sunday people have reported finding tar on the beach.’

He added: ’It’s unusual that all the birds we have found have been guillemots.’

Some very small patches of what looked like heavy fuel oil were found on Port Soderick beach.

Mr Cole said there were two categories of bird - those that had been washed ashore that people have been able to pick up, and others which were obviously in distress but had gone back out to sea, preventing their recovery.

He said: ’The 17 are just the ones we have been able to pick up from the beach.’

Mr Cole, of Victoria Road, Castletown, admitted the birds’ chance of survival was ’not great’.

He explained the birds try to preen themselves and ingest the oil. They had to be hydrated and kept warm and fed before they were strong enough for the cleaning process to begin, which itself could be distressing for them.

Dog walkers are warned to be careful if they go on beaches.

Two Brown Kiwi Die at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

Mar. 20, 2020

Animal care staff at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) are mourning the loss of two kiwi who were found deceased in their habitat March 7 and 8. The male, Ngati Hine Tahi, and female, Ngati Hine Rua, were 15 years old. Before their deaths, both birds appeared to be healthy and did not have any history of illness. Preliminary findings suggest that an intestinal infection and bacterial-toxin production were the causes of death. A final pathology report will provide more information in the coming weeks. Their habitat, Kiwi Flats, has been quarantined, and SCBI’s remaining kiwi have been moved to other animal holding areas to avoid spread of any infectious agent. These kiwi were examined by veterinary staff and remain healthy. 

Ngati Hine Tahi and Ngati Hine Rua arrived at SCBI in July 2010 as a gift from New Zealand. At the time, they were the first export of kiwi in more than 20 years, and adding them to the genetic pool in North America was a rare and valuable opportunity to breed and study this vulnerable species. Upon their arrival, SCBI held a ceremony with a traditional Maori blessing with former New Zealand Ambassador Roy Ferguson and Consul General John Mataira. Both birds came from the Ngati Hine people in New Zealand, and their bodies will be repatriated to the tribe for burial.

When Ngati Hine Tahi arrived at SCBI, he tipped the scales at 7.4 pounds, more than 40% above the ideal weight for brown kiwi. He had a propensity for stealing Ngati Hine Rua’s food and snacking on worms in his yard after rain. The extra weight made it difficult for Ngati Hine Tahi to get into position for successful breeding. Keepers devised a clever enrichment feeder that prevented him from overeating. Since females have longer beaks, keepers put their diets of meat, fruit and vegetables into the bottom of long tubes so that Ngati Hine Tahi could not reach Ngati Hine Rua’s food. Over time, he slimmed down to a svelte 4.8 pounds, and the pair successfully bred. 

West Auckland rats kill native kōkako chicks in Waitākere Ranges

13 Mar, 2020 4:46pm

West Auckland's latest clutch of precious kōkako chicks have fallen prey to rats after rodent numbers soared to record levels in the Waitākere Ranges.

Rat numbers exploded across New Zealand last year as residents in the Auckland suburb of Titirangi complained of huge "cat sized" rats brazenly scurrying through the centre of town.

Pest catchers also reported booming business as the rats ran riot across the city after feasting on food generated by a so-called mega-mast in which native trees fruited heavily.

Now conservationists say endangered kōkako chicks have paid the price with rats and other rodents reportedly destroying all the chicks and eggs in nests under observation at Forest & Bird's Ark in the Park conservation site in the Waitākere Ranges.

Monday, 23 March 2020

In a First, Researchers Record Penguins Vocalizing Under Water

But the scientists still aren’t sure what the birds are saying

But the scientists still aren’t sure what the birds are saying


We humans aren’t very good at communicating underwater, but down in the deep blue sea, plenty of other animals are capable of quite the marine ruckus—including, it seems, penguins.

For the first time, researchers have recorded the waddly, flightless birds making sounds during their deep sea dives, reports Nicky Willemse for New Scientist. The findings, described in a recent study published in the journal PeerJ, could clue scientists in to the communicative cues penguins rely on to hunt.

Simply knowing that penguins engage in underwater banter “opens the door for a lot more research,” Hannah Kriesell, a biologist from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who was not involved in the study, tells Alejandra Manjarrez for Hakai magazine.

Those who have heard a penguin squawk on land might not find these results very surprising. Ashore, these birds often congregate in colonies, making calls and chirps important tools for passing information back and forth to mates, chicks and competitors. Some species will also produce an array of noises when bobbing on the sea surface. So it makes good sense that they’d continue their chatter underwater as well; but a lack of luck with timing and the right equipment has long stymied scientists’ efforts to catalogue the birds’ conversations.

One species to four: New analysis documents new bird diversity in the Pacific

Date: March 6, 2020
Source: University of Maryland Baltimore County

In the 1930s, famed biologist Ernst Mayr became the first to study Pacific Robins. Based on his observations of the robins and other birds on Australia and its outlying islands, he developed foundational concepts that continue to inform the study of evolution. He took copious notes on the birds' physical characteristics, behaviors, and habitats. Always, he described the robin populations as a single species, albeit with significant variation from island to island.

Ernst Mayr made lasting contributions to evolutionary biology -- but like most scientists, he wasn't right about everything.

Bold new claims

Anna Kearns is a former UMBC postdoctoral fellow now at the Smithsonian Institution's Conservation Biology Institute. With her UMBC postdoc advisor Kevin Omland and other colleagues, she has conducted new investigations into the relationships among Pacific Robins on various islands using many of the same bird specimens Mayr himself used. The difference is, "He would have mainly been just using his eyes" to compare specimens, Kearns says. She and her colleagues have had the advantage of major advances in technology since Mayr's time.

Starlings sleep less during summer and full-moon nights

MARCH 19, 2020

Researchers of the University of Groningen and the Max Planck Institute have found that starlings sleep five hours less per night during the summer. Compared to winter, the birds take more mid-day naps and live under higher sleep pressure. During full-moon nights, starlings sleep around two hours less than usual. The findings of the study were published in the journal Current Biology on 19 March.

Sleep regulation in starlings is highly flexible and sensitive to environmental factors, according to a new pioneering study conducted by researchers of the UG's Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), the Avian Sleep Group at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Germany) and the Institute of Neuroinformatics, University of Zurich (Switzerland).

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Mysterious Deaths of Dozens of Seagulls on Beaches

Mar 15, 2020 10:22 PM EDT

Dozens of seagulls have been dropping like flies on beaches in Horowhenua. Along the stretch of kilometers of the Horowhenua sand beaches, they are dying. People have seen the helpless birds flop, stagger and struggle to fly in vain. They become paralyzed, drop on the sand and die.

This strange phenomenon have been seen in the Kuku and Waikawa beaches since Friday, on March 6, 2020. Beverley Dowling, a Manakau woman, saw a post on Facebook on the mysterious seagull deaths, and rushed quickly to the beach to try to rescue and save the black-backed seagulls which are native to the area. She saw the extent of the problem as she was walking along the beach.

Dowling described what was happening to the seagulls as like being "drugged." She reported that they could not move and are literally dying in front of her eyes. She would have wanted to save some of the birds, but it became quickly apparent to her that they were beyond help. They were in the throes of death, and it was happening very, very fast.

Furthermore, Dowling described how she watched the birds as they appeared to be apparently healthy one moment, then suddenly get paralyzed, and then die, all within 10 minutes. The woman tried counting the helpless birds, but she soon gave up because the numbers were so overwhelming. She described the scene as "quite horrific."

Researchers estimate size of bird with unusual vocal biomechanics by its song


by Bob Yirka ,

A team of researchers from Universidad de Buenos Aires, Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales and the University of Münster accurately estimated the size of a white-tipped plantcutter bird by studying nothing but its song. In their paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the group describes their study of the unique bird and is raspy cry.

The white-tipped plantcutter is a songbird found in the scrub and woodlands of south-central and south-eastern South America. It is a member of the Cotingidae family, is sexually dimorphic and eats mostly leaves. What makes it truly unique, however, is how it produces its songs.

Ancient ‘Wonderchicken’ fossil is oldest of modern birds

March 20th, 2020 at 12:21 AM

Oldest-ever modern bird fossil found in Europe has been nicknamed the “Wonderchicken” due to its similarities between present-day chickens and ducks. 

It’s believed that the species roamed the region as far back as one million years before the asteroid strike that triggered the death of most dinosaur species.
The fossil is helping scientists paint a clearer picture of the evolution of birds as we know them today. 

An ancient bird species has just been identified by a group of scientists led by the University of Cambridge. It’s thought to be the oldest example of a modern bird ever discovered, and it’s older than the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs by a full million years.

The discovery, which was published in the journal Nature, is helping scientists to better understand when the first examples of modern birds emerged. It’s also aiding in explaining why birds managed to persist even after the catastrophic dinosaur-killing asteroid came crashing down.

The fossilized skull of the so-called “Wonderchicken” is remarkably well-preserved, giving the researchers a wealth of information about how the ancient species compares to modern-day birds. Its various features mimic those of modern species of chickens and ducks. This, the scientists believe, hints that the Wonderchicken is the last common ancestors of both bird groups.

“The moment I first saw what was beneath the rock was the most exciting moment of my scientific career,” Dr. Daniel Field, who led the research, said in a statement. “This is one of the best-preserved fossil bird skulls of any age, from anywhere in the world. We almost had to pinch ourselves when we saw it, knowing that it was from such an important time in Earth’s history.”

The fossil was found “in a limestone quarry near the Belgian-Dutch border,” according to a press release. It’s unique for a number of reasons, including the fact that it’s the oldest example of a modern bird on record as well as the first fossil of a modern bird from its time period found in the northern hemisphere.

Eskimo curlew, a lost bird, deserves to be remembered

Gary Clark March 19, 2020

A 6-foot bronze sculpture of the Eskimo curlew, which is likely extinct, will stand at Galveston Island State Park as part of the “Lost Bird Project.”

While the ceremony unveiling the sculpture was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sculpture goes on display March 28.

I’m glad the memory of a magnificent migratory shorebird once numbering hundreds of thousands will not be forgotten. As sculptor Todd McGrain said, “Forgetting that these birds ever existed is another kind of extinction.”

Up until at least the mid-19th century, enormous flocks of Eskimo curlews migrated through Texas every spring. They blanketed coastal prairies as they stopped to rest and feed.

People may not have paid much attention to Eskimo curlews. Who would care about a horde of crow-sized brownish birds with down-curved beaks foraging in coastal prairies?

The spring migratory route of Eskimo curlews took them through the eastern half of Texas to Midwest’s tallgrass prairies where they again stopped to rest and feed. They then went to breeding grounds in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Spix’s macaw returns to Brazil, but is overshadowed by controversy

by Suzana Camargo on 19 March 2020 | Translated by Matt Rinaldi

  • Twenty years after the species was officially declared extinct in nature, 52 Spix’s macaws (Cyanopsitta spixii) arrived in Brazil’s Bahia state for eventual reintroduction back into their native habitat.
  • But controversy surrounds the program, stemming from the organization providing the captive-bred birds: the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots, whose founder, Martin Guth, has been accused of running a private collection linked to wildlife trafficking and organized crime.
  • The ACTP is footing the bill for the Spix’s macaw reintroduction program, including building a $1.4 million facility in Bahia, but it’s not clear where the money is coming from. The Brazilian government, as a partner in the program, has also not provided details about the terms of the agreement, and is reportedly pressuring local breeders to send their birds to the ACTP in Germany.
  • The birds are slated for released into the wild in 2021, after a process of adaptation, into two conservation areas established specifically for the Spix’s macaw in Bahia.

The town of Curaçá in Brazil’s of Bahia state lost its last wild Spix’s macaws (Cyanopsitta spixii) two decades ago. So there was a large celebration when, on March 3 this year, 52 of the parrots, bred in captivity, were brought back here to their native region. The macaw was declared extinct in the wild in 2000, a victim of wildlife trafficking and symbol of the ongoing struggle to conserve Brazil’s biodiversity.

But there’s a shadow hanging over their return, cast by the controversial organization that bred them and continues to wield outsize influence over their fate.

The birds brought to Bahia (26 males and 26 females) are the result of a successful captive-breeding program by the Germany-based Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots e. V. (ACTP), which has partnered with the Brazilian government. The event was considered so important that the minister of the environment, Ricardo Salles, was in Petrolina, Pernambuco state, to receive the macaws alongside ACTP head Martin Guth and other Brazilian authorities.

Wild Justice raises funds to fight Welsh shooting licences

Conservation group Wild Justice has launched a legal challenge to the general licences issued by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), which sanction the shooting of pest bird species.

To pay for the challenge, which the group says will cost about £42,000, Wild Justice has launched a crowdfunding page.

Within a few hours of doing so, more than £4,000 had been collected towards an initial target of £6,000.

“This is the latest in our challenges of the legality of the general licences which allow the casual killing of millions of birds across the UK,” Wild Justice said in a statement.

“Although NRW identify the purposes of their general licences, for example nature conservation, protecting crops from serious damage and human health, they do not identify the circumstances under which there is no non-lethal alternative to using lethal control.

“This, we argue, is unlawful and amounts to allowing casual killing of otherwise protected birds.”

Species on the brink: saving the endangered Taita birds of Kenya

Published by surfbirds on February 28, 2020 courtesy of BirdLife International, surfbirds archive

Across the expansive Taita Plains in Southern Eastern Kenya, rises a majestic densely forested hilly outcrops straddling the skyline near the historic town of Voi. These hilly outcrops, famously known as the Taita Hills occupy an area of about 250 square kilometers.

In addition to being an important biodiversity hotspot and water tower, the densely forested hills form an important ecosystem consisting of a number of forests, home to various animals and rare bird species. Some of these endangered birds include the Endangered Taita White, Taita Thrush, and the Critically Endangered Taita Apalis, one of the rarest birds in the world with only 150 birds remaining in the wild.

Contributing to the decline of these endangered bird species is severe habitat loss, as a result of human activities. Increasing human settlement has adversely affected the forests and bushes where the birds live. “Over the years, Taita Hills’s forested areas have fragmented with about 98% of the original forest being destroyed. This severe habitat loss has put enormous pressure on these endangered birds,” notes Paul Kariuki, Head of Conservation at BirdLife Africa.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Mandt's Guillemot added to British list


The British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee (BOURC) has added Mandt's Guillemot – a subspecies of Black Guillemot – to the British list.

The record behind this addition involves the bird at the River Witham mouth at Cut End, Lincolnshire, from 7-10 December 2017. 

Mandt's Guillemot breeds from north-east Canada to Svalbard to northern Siberia and northern Alaska. Published material indicates that this form can be distinguished from other subspecies of Black Guillemot – in non-breeding plumage it is paler, having an almost entirely white head, lacking both a dark loral spot and dark ear coverts. Mandt's Guillemot also shows an all-white rump, scapulars and wing coverts.

The individual in Lincolnshire showed these features and, furthermore, the probability of the bird being an escape from captivity was judged to be minimal. Mandt's Guillemot candidates have been observed in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and The Netherlands, too

Mandt's Guillemot thus has been accepted onto Category A. The British list remains at 621 species (Category A = 603; Category B = 8; Category C = 10).

The Centurion Club: birds not seen in Britain for more than 100 years


There are several iconic species on the British list with just one or two records to their names, usually doused in legend, mystique and folklore. And while there hasn't been a Northern Hawk Owl or Egyptian Nightjar in a few decades, they and other extreme megas have still occurred in many a birder's lifetime – thus the chance of a future record seems at least possible. Even Macqueen's Bustard – which hasn't reached Britain since 1962 – is remotely plausible, not least because of a Belgian record from 2003 and a Swiss bird in 2008. Tengmalm's Owl is fresh proof that the ultimate of unblockings can happen!

However, in this the year 2020, there is a small group of mystical birds that haven't been recorded in Britain for more than a century. All of them are stored in a dusty and long-unopened box, labelled Category B of the BOU's British list: for species that were recorded in an apparently natural state at least once between 1 January 1800 and 31 December 1949, but have not been recorded subsequently.

Police investigate after sparrowhawk shot in Devon


Police have launched an investigation after a Eurasian Sparrowhawk was shot near Plymouth, Devon

A member of the public found the female sparrowhawk with a broken wing in a field near Tamerton Foliot during the morning of Sunday 26 January. An x-ray revealed the bird had been shot. Lead shot was embedded in its left wing and its ulna was fractured. The bird is being cared for but it is not known if it will make a full recovery.

Investigating officer Sergeant Northmore, of the Crownhill Neighbourhood Team, said: "The sparrowhawk appears to be the victim of a cruel and illegal act and may not survive as a result. We are treating this unfortunate incident as a crime under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

"We would like to hear from anyone who was in the area at the time and saw or heard anything which could have been related to this incident, or has any information they think could be useful, to contact us."