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

Friday 30 November 2012

Major Bird Conservation Group Urges Ban On Five Snakes

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - by American Bird Convervancy

One of the country’s leading conservation groups wants Congress to ban imports of reticulated pythons, green anacondas, boa constrictors, and two other constrictor snakes that pose a major threat to native wildlife. In a letter sent the U.S. House Resource Committee, American Bird Conservancy says these snakes should be added to the list of “injurious wildlife” regulated by the Lacey Act, one of America’s oldest conservation statutes designed to protect wildlife from illegal trade. The change would make importing or transporting these snakes over state lines a federal offence.

“This bill (H.R. 511 –To Prohibit the Importation of Various Injurious Species of Constrictor Snakes) is necessary to prevent the further spread of these aggressive, invasive predators,” said Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy at ABC. “It’s well-established that these snakes are highly adaptable to new environments, and that they consume a wide variety of prey, including mammal, amphibian, lizard, and threatened and endangered bird species.”

Birdbrain gets six months for stabbing parrot to death with a fork

A Washington man will spend six months in prison for killing his girlfriend's pet parrot. 

A Washington man will spend six months in prison for stabbing his girlfriend’s parrot to death with a fork, a court ruled.

In a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, a defense lawyer said that Richard J. Atkinson, 63, of Everett, north of Seattle, was blacked out drunk and didn’t remember attacking the bird at the couple’s home in August, the Herald Newspaper reported.

Atkinson mixed whiskey with anti-anxiety medication before stabbing the bird with a serving fork and then trashing his gal’s belongings, his lawyer said.

"He felt horrible," defense lawyer William Steffener said.

Atkinson pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and domestic violence charges last month.

Superior Court Judge George Appel slammed Atkinson as “depraved” and “barbaric,” and ordered him to undergo psychiatric treatment as well as pay for his girlfriend’s trashed belongings, thenewspaper reported.

The bird killer is also barred from coming in contact with any pets for five years.

For Some Feathered Dinosaurs, Bigger Not Always Better

ScienceDaily (Nov. 27, 2012) — Every kid knows that giant carnivores like Tyrannosaurus rexdominated the Cretaceous period, but they weren't the only big guys in town. Giant plant-eating theropods -- close relatives of both T. rex and today's birds -- also lived and thrived alongside their meat-eating cousins. Now researchers have started looking at why dinosaurs that abandoned meat in favor of vegetarian diets got so big, and their results may call conventional wisdom about plant-eaters and body size into question.

Scientists have theorized that bigger was better when it came to plant eaters, because larger digestive tracts would allow dinosaurs to maximize the nutrition they could extract from high-fiber, low-calorie food. Therefore, natural selection may have favored increasing body sizes in groups of animals that went meatless.

Three groups of giant feathered theropods from the Cretaceous period seemed to follow that rule of thumb -- the biggest specimens were also the plant-eaters. Lindsay Zanno, research assistant professor of biology at North Carolina State University and director of the Paleontology & Geology Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and Peter Makovicky, associate curator of paleontology at the Field Museum in Chicago, decided to see if diet was the determining factor when it came to size. Makovicky notes that "Having three closely related lineages of dinosaurs adapting to herbivory over the same geological time span and showing evidence of increasing size provided a near perfect test case."

Raptor persecution in Scotland 2011 – New report

Report reveals illegal killing remains ‘significant threat' to birds of prey
November 2012. Illegal shooting, trapping, nest destruction and poisoning continue to pose a significant threat to Scotland's birds of prey, according to the latest annual report by RSPB Scotland, covering 2011.

The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland in 2011
The report, The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland in 2011, revealed that, as in previous years, some of the country's rarest bird of prey species continue to be the victims of wildlife crimes such as the illegal use of crow traps and the setting out of baits in the open, laced with illegal and highly toxic chemicals.

Reduced - But still an issue
Whilst the report acknowledged a decline in the number of detected poisoning incidents in comparison to the previous few years, in 2011 a total of 20 birds, including 4 red kites and a golden eagle were amongst those confirmed by Scottish Government testing to have been poisoned.

Other incidents recorded by RSPB Scotland during the year included a buzzard starved to death in a crow trap, a short-eared owl, a Golden eagle shota Golden eagle trapped, two peregrines and three buzzards shot and a goshawk nest destroyed.

Hen harriers and Golden eagles ‘disappearing'
The report also highlights the suspicious disappearances of nesting hen harriers and peregrines, and of golden eagles fitted with satellite transmitters by scientists studying their movements and survival.

As in recent years, the majority of incidents of illegal killing took place in areas managed for driven grouse shooting, particularly in the eastern and central Highlands and the southern Uplands of Scotland.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland's Head of Investigations said "Many of these crimes were discovered purely by chance, by walkers or birdwatchers, in remote areas of countryside, it's safe to assume that many victims of illegal killing are not detected or reported.

Light pollution not all bad for wildlife – Helps some waders feed at night

Ecologists shed new light on effects of light pollution on wildlife
November 2012. Light pollution is often associated with negative effects on wildlife. Now, ecologists have found that by mimicking a perpetual full moon, the gas flares and electrical lighting along Scotland's Forth estuary are helping shorebirds stock up on more food during the winter to fuel their spring migration. The research is the first to use night-time light data from US military satellites to study animal behaviour.

Coasts and estuaries are most heavily developed
Coasts and estuaries are among the most rapidly developing areas on Earth. Night-time satellite images of the planet show that except Antarctica, continents are ringed with halos of brightly-lit human development. But coasts are also key wildlife sites. Every year, millions of waterbirds arrive from the Arctic to overwinter on UK coasts, yet scientists remain largely in the dark about how these birds respond to the bright lights of coastal cities and industry.

To shed light on the issue, Dr Ross Dwyer and colleagues from the University of Exeter investigated how artificial light affected feeding habits of the common redshank in the Forth estuary, one of Scotland's most industrialised coasts. As well as major industry such as Grangemouth oil refinery and Longannet power station, whose lights and gas flares illuminate the intertidal areas at night, the estuary's pristine salt marsh and mudflats are home to hundreds of thousands of migrating birds each winter.

Feathers ripped from bird's backs and gaping wounds sewn up with no pain relief: The barbaric cost of your winter coat

This winter, they’re the only thing to be seen in. Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren are selling designer versions, they’ve featured in glossy fashion magazines and they’re flying off the shelves in stores like Benetton, Marks & Spencer and Gap.

The down jacket is currently experiencing astonishing popularity — but before you rush out and buy one, ask yourself this: how cruel is the coat?

For the Mail can reveal the dark side of the down industry, where hordes of birds — particularly geese — suffer horrifically to provide the filling for the latest fashion statement.

Feathers are ripped from the bodies of live creatures, leaving them bleeding and in pain. Others are a by-product of the foie gras industry — so cruel it’s been banned in Britain.

The most prized down, and therefore the one that pays the pluckers the most, is hand-stripped from live birds. 

That’s because the process of mechanically taking it from carcasses before washing and drying it can affect the quality. 

High-grade down from live geese — using the softest feathers from the breast region, as opposed to the longer ones from the back, under the wings and the neck — can fetch as much as £22 per kilo. 

The going rate for those from slaughtered creatures is just £1.60. But the price paid by the bird is far greater. 

The living hell of their short lives has been repeatedly witnessed by Marcus Mueller, 34 — an investigator for the animal charity Four Paws — who has been working for many years to expose the industry’s cruelty.

He has seen first-hand the brutality of the Hungarian plucking brigades — men and women who go from farm to farm stripping live birds of their plumage. 

Thursday 29 November 2012

Waxwing ringing project gets underway in York

Waxwing year gets underway with large flocks on Skye and in Yorkshire and Humberside
November 2012. 

Britain has seen a large influx of several thousand waxwings this autumn. With distinctive bright red tips at the end of their dusky pink plumage, square-ended yellow tail feathers and a black ‘highwayman' band running across their eyes, these colourful little birds have big characters. A flock of 1,000 was seen round the Isle of Skye, and several flocks of up to 300 birds have been present in Yorkshire and the Humber region as the birds move south after having depleted berry crops further north. 

Rowan tree
Natural England staff and volunteers from the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve (NNR) came to nearby York to ring waxwings around the York Walls. With permission from the City of York Council, nets were set round a rowan tree beneath the city walls and 12 waxwings were soon caught. This was a great result in terms of successfully ringing birds to gather scientific evidence; and a fantastic opportunity to tell the watching public more about waxwings and how bird ringing projects work.

Craig Ralston, Natural England's Senior Reserve Manager from the Lower Derwent Valley NNR, waxed lyrical about the ringing project. He said: "This ringing project - which forms part of a wider scientific data collection programme - brings fascinating conservation work more often found on our nature reserves, right into the heart of the city. It's a great way of engaging with people about the surprising natural wonders that can be found on our doorsteps."

Christmas Bird Count at Sea

Back in my landlubber days Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) were always a highlight of the winter holiday season. We would suit up for the weather and spend the day counting birds within our ‘count circle’. At the end of the day we would meet up with the other birders and tally our observations. The Christmas Bird Count is managed by the National Audubon Society in the United States and this year will be the 112th count. This citizen science program provides avian scientists with data to look for trends in abundance and distribution of individual bird species.

Now, for the second year, cruisers and other mariners can be part of a similar large-scale citizen science effort. This Christmas bird count, not affiliated with Audubon, is called a SeaBC. Last year’s inaugural count spanned one hundred degrees of latitude from Maine to Antarctica. The second SeaBC is scheduled for November-January and this year we’re encouraging mariners to simply take digital photos of birds seen at sea. It’s fine if you’re not a seabird expert! Seabirds can be difficult to identify—even for experts. Take digital photos and jot down notes, saving the identification for later with the help of the online community at the Birding Aboard Facebook page.

There are several good bird identification guides for the Caribbean. Birds of the West Indies (Princeton Field Guides) , by Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith and Janis Raffaele (2003) is a good resource for land or sea travels in the Caribbean.

Additional resources, including instructions and tally sheets, are posted on, under the button for SeaBC resources. All data goes to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s eBird database, which has easy online reporting and is available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese ( The data becomes a resource for scientists and citizens worldwide and is shared with other conservation organizations such as BirdLife International and National Audubon Society.

Protection of seabird colonies

Is the Scottish Government being deliberately misleading when it says Scotland's new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), to be announced next month, will save seabirds?

We hope not but, RSPB Scotland and our supporters are expecting the list of MPAs to offer little for seabirds, given that, as a group of species, they have been marginalised in site selection. We hope this will be corrected.

New MPAs protecting sandeels from industrial fishing are welcome. An area from north-east Scotland to Northumberland has been closed since 2000. This closure and restrictions to local sandeel fisheries are championed by RSPB but these measures cannot prevent other development pressures on sandeel grounds. We look forward to the Firth of Forth appearing at the top of the list of MPAs to protect sandeels as this is one of the most important breeding areas in the North Sea and vital for seabird colonies.

Scientists are concerned about the decline in seabirds and our research shows how this could have devastating impacts on the economies of rural areas which rely on wildlife tourism. Protecting seabirds and supporting communities requires MPAs designated for seabirds.

Lloyd Austin, Head of Conservation Policy, RSPB Scotland, 2 Lochside View, Edinburgh.

‘Feed the birds’ plea as natural feed sources dwindle for the winter

Many garden birds need feeding, especially after such bad weather. Even magpies.

BSA issues plea for kind people everywhere to help garden birds through the winter

November 2012. The Birdcare Standards Association - the only UK organisation to provide standards for the quality of birdfeed and accessories sold in the UK - has issued a plea to garden bird lovers across the country to feed the birds this winter - starting now.

Atrocious wet weather
Most garden birds supplement the majority of their naturally occurring feed stuffs with the seed mixes and fatballs and other products put out in gardens by kind homeowners across the UK - but this year they will be even more reliant on the scraps and the quality birdfeed put out for them due to the atrocious and wet weather we've experienced this year.

"The very wet weather particularly in the spring has caused major problems for many garden birds naturally occurring food and many bushes that carry berries that birds eat in the very cold weather have already been stripped before the end of November, highlighting the difficult situation they will experience when the really cold weather comes along," says Birdcare Standards Association CEO Steve Paddock. "Sadly we lose a lot of garden birds during the winter anyway and if we are not to see that number getting even higher over the next few weeks, we need to offer them help in the form of some good quality, nutritious feed products that they can get hold of easily in our gardens. We recommend using products that carry the BSA logo because they meet our standards for quality and we know that the birds will benefit from the feed they eat."

'Devil birds' moving in at Lake Merced

A gang of cantankerous flying aliens known to some avian aficionados as "devil birds" have been spotted flitting around San Francisco's Lake Merced acting like they belong.

The crow-sized creatures, which ornithologists know as great-tailed grackles, are native to Latin America and the southern United States, but the aggressive birds have recently been moving west, gobbling up the eggs of other birds and threatening to make a nuisance of themselves.

As many as six males and two females have been seen at Lake Merced, the largest concentration of the species ever recorded in San Francisco, according to the experts.

"They are often vilified as devil birds," said David Cruz, a local photographer and founder of Natures Lantern, a local nature photo and video sharing site. "It is a unique bird that many San Francisco residents have yet to see."

The birds, known scientifically as Quiscalus mexicanus, have in recent decades expanded their range from Texas and parts south of there to Northern California, most likely because of human-caused changes in their habitat. The first sighting in California was along the Colorado River in 1964. The birds have since colonized much of urban Southern California and parts of the San Joaquin Valley.

Bird nesting habitat fades away

Effort under way to restore Cat Island; parish searches for funding

The months have not been kind to Cat Island, two small spits of land in Plaquemines Parish that have served for years as bird nesting destinations.

Cat Island is the name for two separate islands that have been eroding for years. In the past four months, the two islands have gotten smaller with much of their vegetation dying or dead.

Cat Island west was 360 acres in 1930, 40 acres in 1998 and 4 acres in 2010 before the Deepwater Horizon/BP explosion and subsequent heavy oiling.

Although in July the island could boast areas of thick black mangroves that were being used by brown pelicans, by Nov. 16, the mangroves were dead and the island had been split into two pieces.

Cat Island east was about 5 acres before the leak in 2010. In July, it was just a sand spit with some vegetation that may be 100 yards long and 30 yards wide. By November, it also was smaller and without vegetation.

However, there is an effort under way to restore the islands — if the money to do the work can be found. Plans for restoring the islands include breakwaters made of a structure that will have holes in it to allow water flow, a fish habitat and to serve as oyster foundations.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Capercaillie thriving on two Scottish estates – Why just there?

Scientists are trying to understand why capercaillie are thriving on a few estates, but not across most of their distribution.

Local capercaillie success encourages ‘Friends' to find out more
November 2012. A group of capercaillie experts and enthusiasts have been visiting two Highland estates to find out why numbers of the rare species are increasing in the face of serious declines in other parts of Scotland.

The Friends of Capercaillie were invited to visit the Forestry Commission Scotland owned Inshriach Forest and the privately owned Glenfeshie Estate. Across Scotland - the only place in Britain where capercaillies are found - there are thought to be fewer than 1,300 of these magnificent turkey sized birds remaining. Nationally they appear to be declining still further in their former strongholds like Deeside, but the Speyside population is holding up well and even increasing on some sites, in spite of ‘challenging' summer weather which affects productivity.

From only 9 lekking cocks counted in 2006, lek counts this year reported 33 cocks across Inshriach and at Glenmore, the Commission's other forest in the area.

Graeme Prest, who manages Forestry Commission Scotland's Inverness, Ross & Skye District, said: "Numbers in Inshriach have increased - and the increase is impressive considering the big declines over much of the rest of the range. Something appears to being working well here for Capercaillie - and we were keen to show the ‘Friends' what we have been doing and the impact it appears to be having. Much of that success seems to come down to the fact that we are learning how to manage our multi-purpose forests Scots pine forests in ways that allow us to strike a balance between the needs of capercaillie and the demands of timber production and recreation.

Critically Endangered Great Indian bustards spotted in India

Two Great Indian bustards seen in Karnataka

November 2012. There are thought to be just a few hundred Great Indian bustards left alive in India. They have suffered mostly from hunting and loss of their dry grassland habitat.

According to press reports in India, two Great Indian bustards were seen and photographed near a small village in Karnataka in an area where they haven't been recorded for 10 years.

Swans Have Crash Landings and Hip Injuries Are More Common Than Previously Thought

ScienceDaily (Nov. 26, 2012) — Despite -- or perhaps because of -- their large size, swans seem particularly prone to injury. Known problems include collisions with cars, lead poisoning due to gunshot wounds or ingested foreign bodies and injuries from fishing hooks. Injuries to the birds' hips, however, are believed to be uncommon. Michaela Gumpenberger and Alexandra Scope of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna now present evidence to suggest that such injuries are more frequent than suspected but are under-recorded because of difficulties in diagnosis. They show that computerized tomography is far better suited to examine the hip joint than classical radiographic methods.

Their results are published in the journal Avian Pathology.

Diagnosing an injury in a swan is a far from easy undertaking. Not only are swans large, frequently weighing over 10 kg, but they are generally not happy at being handled and thus many of them can only be examined after sedation, which naturally represents a risk. The hip joints of many species of bird are known to be vulnerable to injury but swans are believed to suffer broken hips only rarely. The traditional way of examining the birds' hips relies on radiography but Gumpenberger and Scope now show that computerized tomography (CT) gives more reliable findings.

Plan OK'd to protect rare birds

ALAMOSA — Federal wildlife officials and local water and government officials finalized a plan Wednesday to protect a pair of rare birds, while allowing local farmers and ranchers to avoid more stringent provisions in the Endangered Species Act.

The San Luis Valley Regional Habitat Conservation Plan protects the southwestern willow flycatcher, which is listed as endangered by the federal government, and the yellow-billed cuckoo, a candidate for federal listing.

"We're happy to see our conservation partners in the San Luis Valley develop this plan that will allow people to sustain their rich tradition of working the fertile landscape of the valley while simultaneously contributing to the conservation of fish and wildlife in their own back yards," Noreen Walsh, an acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional director, said in a news release.

The flycatcher summers in the valley, establishing nests in the willows and smaller cottonwoods near wetlands and slow-moving or standing bodies of water.

Bird language book a call to use our instincts

There’s a new book out that would make a great gift this year. It’s called “What the Robin Knows.”

It’s about bird language.

While the chirping of birds may seem inconsequential, this book is not your ordinary bird guide and is not just for birders. Author Jon Young makes a strong case for what humans are missing by ignoring or neglecting to give our attention to the vocalizations of birds.

In “What the Robin Knows,” Young describes five basic types of vocalizations: songs, companion calls, territorial aggression, adolescent begging and alarms. Anyone who has sat in a tree stand, walked a trail or stood knee deep in a river has heard all of these at some time.
What you may have been missing, or may have noticed but not been able to interpret, is that both the silences and the sounds of birds are communicating information about the wider forest.

To teach about bird language, Young describes the relationship between a zone of awareness and a zone of disturbance. The goal of anyone wanting to learn bird language is to make your zone of awareness larger and your zone of disturbance smaller. 

For experienced woodsmen and trackers, this may seem obvious, but the actual technique of walking with “invisibility” is not an easy skill to obtain. Young learned the old-fashioned way — years outside with the guidance of mentors.

Waituna Wetlands fire under control

A wildfire battled by fire crews at the Waituna wetlands since Monday night is under control but several species of rare birds are threatened by the damage.

It took five ground crews and three helicopters to bring the fire, which burnt through 498 hectares of the internationally-recognised wetlands, under control.

Several species of rarely sighted birds lived in the 500 hectares of the Waituna Wetlands Scientific Reserve destroyed by fire, with some of the birds nesting at the time of the blaze, experts say.

The rural fire authority's principal rural fire officer Mike Grant said although the flames had died down, there was still a lot of work needed to ensure the fire was completely out.

While weather conditions in Southland have been wet with average rainfall recorded, scrubby vegetation dries quickly after rain and can burn within two to three hours, even in cold conditions, he said.

''There will be crews out there today patrolling the fire perimeter and dampening down hot spots to ensure the fire is fully extinguished.''Fire investigators are continuing to examine the cause of the fire.

"This fire is an opportunity for people to think about what fire risks may be on their property.  Although this fire occurred in a wetland it could have occurred anywhere" Mr Grant said.

"Fine, dry scrubby vegetation can be found around home gardens, farmsland, hedges and dry dead grasses at any time of the year.''

The Awarua Wetlands, near Invercargill, is one of the largest remaining wetlands and is recognised for its biological diversity, cultural values and bird life.

Conservation Department Southern Islands area manager Andy Roberts, who is also the Southern Rural Fire District's incident controller, said bird species in the manuka bush and wetlands in the Awarua Bay area included bitterns, fernbirds and crakes.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

British bird species 'face extinction' if EU cuts £8bn agriculture subsidy

Conservation groups are warning that the UK could lose several species of bird within a decade if, as expected, billions of pounds of European funding to help farmers promote biodiversity are cut.

Under details being thrashed out as part of a rebalancing of the Common Agricultural Policy budget, some £8bn for rural development is likely to be lost, according to the RSPB. Billions more could also go under new rules allowing EU member states to divert money to food production away from schemes that protect fields and heritage sites. The RSPB said the plans would spell disaster for wildlife in England and the rest of Europe.

"It is outrageous news that President van Rompuy is asking EU leaders to cut the largest single budget for wildlife conservation in the UK," said Martin Harper, the RSPB's director of conservation. "It would be a disaster. We've seen a proposal which could have led to the pot of money for wildlife-friendly farming being cut by up to one third. The loss of wildlife from our farmed countryside is a crisis which to date no politician has faced up to. We need European leaders to recognise that funding to tackle this must not be traded away when they next come together to thrash out a deal. Our landscapes, farmers and wildlife depend on the future of this funding."

Rural development cash is used to develop agri-environment schemes that pay farmers to manage hedgerows and wildflower flowers that provide vital food and shelter for birds. The cash funded England's Higher Level Stewardship Scheme which has been credited with playing a major part in protecting wildlife. Since the first agri-environment schemes were introduced in 1987, tens of thousands of farmers and landowners have helped wildlife, according to the RSPB.

San Jose to permit airport bird shooting

SAN JOSE -- The holidays are hard on birds, at least those with plump, tasty bodies. But bird-kind can be hard on us too, and not just in Hitchcock films. 

For the jet-set, birds pose a deadly threat: Flying into an engine during takeoff or landing, they can send a plane into a fatal plunge. Airlines paint eyes on the engines because apparently birds find a 150,000-pound jetliner scarier if it's looking at them. But they don't always fall for that.

So in a move to make flying a little less fretful for people, San Jose leaders this week will allow airport staffers more ammo in their battle against the birds. For real. The proposed ordinance modification will let airport staffers and contracted biologists shoot at birds to clear them from the airfield.

OK, they plan to fire blanks mostly, just to scare them off. But they'll have permission to load birdshot if their feathered foes don't get the flock out.

"At some point," said Mineta San Jose International Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes, "all those other measures aren't enough."

Actually, airport staffers have already done this. But current city law only lets cops and military types fire guns at the airport, so they want the City Council to approve the change.

"It kind of clears it up administratively so we're in compliance with the municipal code," said Airport Manager Curt Eikerman.


Birds studied to understand trade-offs between reproduction, immunity

University of Delaware post-doctoral researcher Ian Stewart is conducting research to answer this question a bit more scientifically. His subjects – tree swallows – make human parents look like slouches. Both the mother and father tree swallow feed their hatchlings every five minutes, 12 hours a day.  (It should be noted, though, that their parenting gig is much shorter than ours—after 17 or 18 days the young leave the nest.) Stewart is studying these small, migratory birds to better understand the trade-offs they make between reproduction and immunity. His research could potentially help scientists who study human biology better understand our own immune system and its stressors. Stewart is part of a young but growing interdisciplinary field called ecoimmunology, which combines aspects of immunology with ecology, biology, physiology and evolution. He chose to focus his research on tree swallows and bluebirds because both are fairly tolerant of human interaction. "Some birds don't like being observed but tree swallows and bluebirds don't get stressed from being watched or handled," notes Stewart.  There's another very important benefit to working with these birds—since they nest in boxes, not up in the trees, they're a heck of lot easier to catch.  Throughout the breeding season, Stewart catches the parent birds, injects them with a harmless antigen and releases them. Then, he re-catches the same birds a few days later to take blood samples and assess each bird's immune response to the antigens.  "Some of the tree swallows work harder at parenting," notes Stewart. "It may be because the bird has four hatchlings to feed instead of just three. Other times, the bird is simply more energetic at taking care of its hatchlings, regardless of brood size." 

Read more at:

Poisoned rare storks trigger calls for animal protection

TIANJIN - An endangered species of bird grabbed headlines in Chinese media over the past week not because of its elegant beauty, but because 20 died of poisoning in northern China.
Poachers poisoned the wild birds within a wetland nature reserve in North China's Tianjin municipality. Their actions left 20 Oriental white storks dead and 13 others sickened, triggering public outcry for intensified protection of wild animals and harsher punishments for those behind the deaths of the storks.

The birds, no more than 3,000 of which remain in the wild worldwide, were stopping at the city's Beidagang Wetland Nature Reserve along their migratory route from Northeast China to central Poyang Lake.

Sources with the reserve management committee have confirmed that the birds, as well as other species, were found poisoned on November 11 after an amateur photographer spotted the dead body of a stork.

Volunteers and workers from the Tianjin Wild Animal Rescue and Training Center carried out rescue work, retrieving 13 poisoned birds and 20 corpses.

Since being treated in the center, the 13 poisoned birds have made complete recoveries and are ready to be released on Wednesday morning, according to Dai Yuanming, director of the center.

Dai said the birds have been banded for further tracking and research.

Police said the water in the wetland was confirmed to have contained carbofuran, also known as furadan, one of the most toxic carbamate pesticides.

Local authorities are diluting the tainted water and looking for the sources of the pesticide. It is believed that the birds were poisoned by poachers who sell the rare birds to restaurants where wildfowls are sold illegally.

Though hunting and trading endangered animals are both banned in China, a large bird like the Oriental white stock can fetch about 200 yuan (about $32) on the black market, while a swan can garner up to 1,000 yuan.

Local authorities have since stepped up protection measures at the reserve, and a 50,000 yuan reward has been offered for clues on the whereabouts of the poachers.

The poisoning of the wild birds has triggered angry outbursts directed at poachers, as well as outcry for intensified wild animal protection.

"What a cruel and greedy slaughter! The storks are just like travellers on their way home, but now they will never have a chance to get back on their way," "xianyubujiaoao" wrote on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblogging platform.

"No trading, no poaching! The true murderers behind wild animal poaching are those greedy gluttons who devour almost everything," wrote Weibo user "linxiaohaidechuntian."

Xue Manzi, a famous Chinese angel investor and an active Weibo user, also asked the public not to eat wildfowls or other wild animals and urged authorities to intensify their crackdown on the illegal industrial chain of poaching, including restaurants that sell endangered animals.

Feds ditch bird poisoning plan; public input sought on plover protection

After public outcry, a proposal to protect threatened snowy plovers on Clam Beach by poisoning egg-gobbling predators was withdrawn Tuesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

”That didn't seem to fly -- no pun intended -- with the public,” Fish and Wildlife Field Supervisor Nancy Finley said of the plan to use an avicide called DRC-1339 to kill corvids -- crows and ravens -- that preyed on plover eggs.

Humboldt County's Clam Beach has one of the most aggressive predation rates by corvids, according to a Fish and Wildlife press release. In the last 11 years, more than 70 percent of snowy plover eggs on the north coast have been lost due to corvid predation.

A series of methods put forward at the last meeting included discouraging preying behavior, trapping corvids, and more comprehensive approaches like reducing trash that attracts corvids to the beach: “things to reduce the corvid population on a more holistic scale,” Finley said.

She said the goal of Fish and Wildlife is managing snowy plover protection with realistic methods. Labor intensive options could be made possible with community volunteers.

”That's something I'd like to gauge as well,” Finley said.

Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace expressed appreciation at the community meetings that led Fish and Wildlife to drop its proposal.

”I'm really glad the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone out to get some outreach in the community,” he said. “There's widespread agreement that something needs to be done... but perhaps they need to be involving the community in exploring a wider range of options.”

Read on:

Crane count: Michigan Audubon Society keeps track of protected birds

DELTON, MI -- The evening sky took on a surreal quality not unlike a scene by Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. A dull gray ceiling had transformed in just a matter of minutes to an explosion of orange, yellow and purple, flooding the lakefront with a post-apocalyptic light.

To add even more drama, there were cranes flying in. Small flocks hung in the sky over the lake, calling in their unmistakable tongue, part trumpet, part purr, part rattle and croak, a language that has fascinated man for centuries.

Standing nearby, bundled up to ward off cold, Tom Funke was counting them on a clicker he held in his hand. A pair of binoculars hung around his neck.

Funke is the director of conservation for Michigan Audubon Society. He and I had come out for the annual state crane count, an event that provides the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a snapshot of migrating crane numbers. The data help them determine the status of the cranes, which are protected under the federal migratory bird treaty act. 

Sandhills almost were extirpated in Michigan, having been sought by market hunters for food and by clothiers for fashionable plumage. They were common in Michigan until the 1880s. By 1905, they were nearly gone.

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Monday 26 November 2012

Chromosome ends hold clues to a bird's longevity

The long and short of a bird’s life may be recorded in the tips of its chromosomes, a new study suggests.

A study of Seychelles warblers living on a small island in the Indian Ocean suggests that the length of telomeres — bits of DNA that cap chromosome ends — can predict a bird’s chance of dying better than its chronological age can. Warblers with shorter telomeres were less likely to survive another year, especially if the truncation happened rapidly, David S. Richardson, a molecular ecologist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, and colleagues report online November 20 inMolecular Ecology.

The study “provides very important evidence that backs up what has been found in the laboratory — changes in telomere length matter a lot,” says animal ecologist Pat Monaghan of the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Increasing age and body mass were also linked to shorter telomeres in the birds. That result stands in contrast to a recent large study of people in northern California that found telomeres get shorter with age, but that higher body mass is associated with longer telomeres (SN Online, 11/11/12).

Like shoestring aglets, telomeres stop chromosomes from unraveling or being eaten away at the ends. Cells with very short telomeres become decrepit or die, but it has been unclear whether that has any effect on whole body.

Follow Up: Bird Deaths Over the Weekend Remain a Mystery

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Last weekend, we told you about the strange sight of up to 100 dead starlings found at the intersection of E. Erieand Fremont Ave.

On Monday, Francis Skalicky with the Missouri Department of Conservation told KOLR10 News the nature of the starlings may help explain what happened.

"A multiple starling death such as this may be unique for the intersection of Fremont and Erie in Springfield, but each year in North America it's not that uncommon to have an event like this."

Skalicky says during the winter months, this species of birds flies in huge flocks from hundreds to thousands for safety reasons. He says there are several theories to why birds would suddenly die.

Starlings are ground feeders, so Skalicky says the birds may have been feeding and were hit by a large vehicle. Or perhaps they were startled overnight and flew into buildings or wires.

Birds killed by truck?
A big vehicle plowing through a flock of startled starlings may have left 50 to 100 birds dying in the street over the weekend.

That’s one theory the Missouri Department of Conservation has come up with to explain the birds’ demise, according MDC Media Specialist Francis Skalicky.

“A Conservation agent investigated the scene and there’s no evidence of foul play,” Skalicky said late Monday. “He did collect two birds and the Health Department was asked if they wanted to test them, but they said no. We believe it was a single event at that location. It may be unusual to see on a street within the city limits, but it’s not an uncommon event in the wild for large numbers of starlings to die all at once.”

People began reporting the presence of a large number of dead birds at the intersection of Fremont Avenue and Erie Street on Saturday. Skalicky said starlings tend to form large flocks, especially in cooler weather.

It’s possible a flock was feeding on the ground in the area and flew into a large vehicle as it passed by, he said.

“It has happened in other places,” he said. “A second theory is that there may have been an overnight roost disturbance, but we don’t really know what caused them to die.
“It’s a head-scratcher.”

Because the incident happened in one small location — and no other bird species appear to have been affected — Skalicky said MDC isn’t planning any further inquiry into the bird deaths.

“We’re certain it was a single event, but we don’t know for sure what that event was,” he said.


O.C. bird die-off raising concerns among experts

Shelmarie Main and Chloe Mallone were heartbroken when they saw a blue-beaked American wigeon collapsed on a pond drainage grate. His head hung down, barely keeping his beak out of the water, and his wings were splayed to the side.

The mother-daughter duo take walks along Village Pond Park most days to admire wildlife. On that day, two kids poking at something on the ground caught their attention. As they got closer, they realized it was a dying wigeon. His head was twisted and he barely moved. His instinct to flee seemed gone. When they touched him, he shuddered with his last breath. Just a foot away, a female mallard was struggling. Slightly more alert, the bird tried to flee but could not.

Main and Mallone moved the dying animals to safety. As they did, they discovered two more dead ducks. They called the county's animal control for help.

"It was horrible, there were so many," said Mallone, 20, who said she's been a bird geek since age 9. "To see one once in a while is normal but all of these at once, it was heartbreaking. At first I thought someone had been poisoning them."

In the last two weeks nearly three dozen dead and dying water fowl have been found in several areas across Orange County, including Lake Forest and Santa Ana. More than a dozen were found at the Village Pond in Lake Forest. At least 16 dead and dying ducks have been found at Carl Thornton Park near South Coast Plaza in Santa Ana. Most have been migratory birds such as the American wigeon, American coots and some mallards.