As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Friday, 3 April 2020

Six million-year-old bird skeleton points to arid past of Tibetan plateau

APRIL 2, 2020

Researchers from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found a new species of sandgrouse in six to nine million-year-old rocks in Gansu Province in western China. The newly discovered species points to dry, arid habitats near the edge of the Tibetan Plateau as it rose to its current extreme altitude.

According to their study published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution on Mar. 31, the new species, named Linxiavis inaquosus, fills a nearly 20 million-year gap in the sandgrouse fossil record.

The fossil of the partial skeleton includes much of the body, such as the shoulder girdles, wishbone, bones from both wings, vertebrae, and part of a leg. Unfortunately, the head is missing.

"As the oldest fossil of a sandgrouse in Asia and the most complete fossil known from the group, the new skeleton provides a key link in expanding our understanding of the evolution of the sandgrouse living in China today, as well as the ecosystem associated with the Tibetan Plateau and the species that live only there," said Dr. Li Zhiheng, first author of the study.

Whooping cranes form larger flocks as wetlands are lost -- and it may put them at risk

Date: April 2, 2020
Source: Cell Press

Over the past few decades, the critically endangered whooping crane (Grus Americana) has experienced considerable recovery. However, in a report appearing April 2 in the journal Heliyon, researchers found that habitat loss and within-species attraction have led whooping cranes to gather in unusually large groups during migration. While larger groups are a positive sign of species recovery, the authors say that these large groups mean that a disease outbreak or extreme weather event could inadvertently impact a substantial portion of this still fragile population.

"Whooping crane conservation is one of North America's great success stories," says Andrew Caven, Director of Conservation Research at Crane Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of critical habitat for whooping cranes and other migratory birds. During the 1940s the whooping crane population fell to 16 birds, largely due to overhunting. However, after concerted conservation efforts, their numbers have increased 30-fold. "We had this species at the brink of extinction, and now there are over 500 birds. As conservation biologists, we've been extremely inspired by that."

Even with this boom in whooping crane numbers, researchers are observing larger migratory flocks than they would expect from population growth alone. Historically, groups of migrating whooping cranes seldom exceeded a family unit. "Twenty years ago, a group of nine was notable; something you'd write in your natural history notes about. But now it's becoming something quite regular. In the recent years we've seen bird groups over seventy multiple times."

White-Tailed Eagles: ‘Doing Well And Finding Food Independently’ On Isle Of Wight

12th March 2020

Three white-tailed eagles released on the Isle of Wight have survived the winter and are ‘doing well and finding food independently’, according to Forestry England.

Six of the rare birds were reintroduced to the Island for the first time in 240 years last summer – three of which have survived and are being ‘closely monitored’.

The news comes after conservationists warned on Tuesday food short shortages and stormy weather caused by climate change, are creating tough conditions for the country’s seabirds and putting many at risk.

As previously reported, Forestry England said it hoped two of the birds released on the Island will breed.

A spokesperson for Forestry England told Isle of Wight Radio:

“The White-tailed eagles released on the Island last summer are closely monitored by the project team. Three are currently on the Isle of Wight and the fourth is still in Oxfordshire. All birds are doing well and finding food independently.

“Throughout the winter we have been providing supplementary food at the release site and so this is available if required by the birds.”

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.