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

Monday 16 December 2019

'Gay' Penguin Couple Had No Egg of Their Own. So They Stole One.

Zookeepers found the two males incubating a purloined egg.

A pair of mated male penguins in a Dutch zoo were so eager for offspring that they stole an egg from another pair of penguins.

Two male black-footed penguins (Spheniscus demersus, also known as African penguins) at DierenPark Amersfoort zoo in the Netherlands were recently found incubating a purloined egg. Their nest — holding the stolen egg — was near a nest that belonged to a male and female penguin couple, zoo representatives said in a statement.

Hatching season was already underway for the zoo's penguin community, and the males likely swiped the egg from their breeding neighbors during "an unguarded moment," according to the statement. 

Record-size sex chromosome found in two bird species

Date:  December 4, 2019
Source:  Lund University

Researchers in Sweden and the UK have discovered the largest known avian sex chromosome. The giant chromosome was created when four chromosomes fused together into one, and has been found in two species of lark.

"This was an unexpected discovery, as birds are generally considered to have very stable genetic material with well-preserved chromosomes," explains Bengt Hansson, professor at Lund University in Sweden.

In a new study, the researchers charted the genome of several species of lark, a songbird family in which all members have unusually large sex chromosomes. The record-size chromosome is found in both the Eurasian skylark, a species that is common in Europe, Asia and North Africa, and the Raso lark, a species only found on the small island of Raso in Cape Verde.

According to the Lund biologists Bengt Hansson and Hanna Sigeman, who led the study, the four chromosomes have fused together in stages. The oldest fusion happened 25 million years ago and the most recent six million years ago. The four chromosomes that have formed the larks' sex chromosome have also all developed at some time into sex chromosomes in other vertebrates.

"The genetic material in the larks' sex chromosome has also been used to form sex chromosomes in mammals, fish, frogs, lizards and turtles. This indicates that certain parts of the genome have a greater tendency to develop into sex chromosomes than others," says Bengt Hansson.

Australia's threatened birds declined by 59% over the past 30 years

DECEMBER 3, 2019

by Elisa Bayraktarov and Jaana Dielenberg, The Conversation

Australia's threatened birds declined by nearly 60% on average over 30 years, according to new research that reveals the true impact on native wildlife of habitat loss, introduced pests, and other human-caused pressures.

Alarmingly, migratory shorebirds have declined by 72%. Many of these species inhabit our mudflats and coasts on their migration from Siberia, Alaska or China each year.

These concerning figures are revealed in our world-first Threatened Bird Index. The index, now updated with its second year of data, combines over 400,000 surveys at more than 17,000 locations.

It's hoped the results will shed light on where conservation efforts are having success, and where more work must be done.

Bringing conservation efforts together
The index found a 59% fall in Australia's threatened and near threatened bird populations between 1985 and 2016.

Migratory shorebirds in South Australia and New South Wales have been worst hit, losing 82% and 88% of their populations, respectively. In contrast, shorebirds in the Northern Territory have increased by 147% since 1985, potentially due to the safe roosting habitat at Darwin Harbour where human access to the site is restricted.

Habitat loss and pest species (particularly feral cats) are the most common reasons for these dramatic population declines.

Friday 13 December 2019

How humans killed off the only parrot native to the continental U.S.

The last Carolina parakeet died in captivity in 1918. Now, new genetic analysis has revealed what drove the bird to extinction.


The United States was a more colorful place when flocks of Carolina parakeets flew across the sky like daytime fireworks, flashing pops of orange, yellow, and green.

The country’s only native parrot species ranged from southern New England down to Florida and as far west as Colorado, but the last one died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918. Since then, the Carolina parakeet has symbolized the perils of extinction in the United States, much like the dodo has on the global stage.

A century after the last parakeet soared over America, a mystery endures: Was the demise of the 12-inch-long bird entirely driven by people? Farmers, who saw them as crop pests, easily eliminated whole flocks, since the animals had the unfortunate habit of gathering around their fallen comrades. Hunters killed the parakeets for their plumage, which was a popular hat accessory in the 20th century. And habitat loss—particularly land-clearing for agriculture—also removed trees the birds used or nesting. (Read how parrots may have become too popular for their own good.)

Even so, other experts have speculated other causes were at play: Natural disasters, such as fires and floods, could have fragmented the birds' habitat, and they may have been exposed to harmful diseases spread by poultry.

Now a group of international researchers has sequenced the Carolina parakeet genome and concluded that the bird’s rapid decline shows human interference drove their extinction, according to a study published today in the journal Current Biology.

Hundreds of dead birds found in mystery mass death

11 December 2019

Hundreds of birds found dead on a north Wales road are to be tested to discover how they died.

About 225 starlings were discovered with blood on their bodies in a lane on Anglesey, North Wales Police said.

Dafydd Edwards, whose partner found the birds, said it was as if "they had dropped down dead from the sky".

The Animal and Plant Health Agency has collected them for testing and will examine whether they could have been poisoned.

North Wales Police said it was investigating the "very strange" discovery and has appealed for information.

"We don't know how it has happened," said PC Dewi Evans.

Mr Edwards, 41, said his partner Hannah Stevens first saw the birds alive as she went to an appointment on Tuesday afternoon.

"She said she saw hundreds of them flying over and thought it looked amazing but on her way back around an hour later they were all dead in the road.

Ms Stevens reported seeing the birds eating something in the road.

"I counted 150 last night but I gave up as there's just hundreds of them littered everywhere.

"It's as if they just dropped down dead from the sky."

A spokesman for the RSPB said: "This is obviously very concerning for us and we will await the test results.

"It would be inappropriate for us to speculate as to how they have died."

Jimi Hendrix is NOT to blame for Britain's plague of 170,000 parakeets: Scientists finally dispel urban legend by tracing historical sightings of the bright birds back to the 1800s

Legend claims the birds were released by Jimi Hendrix or Humphrey Bogart 
Others claim a plane crash or burglars in George Michael's home released them 
New study disproves these theories and says it was likely due to many low-profile releases of unwanted pet parakeets over decades 

PUBLISHED: 00:01, 12 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:21, 12 December 2019

Urban legend has a range of outlandish theories for the origin of Britain's parakeets, including Jimi Hendrix, Humphrey Bogart and George Michael. 

But their true origin in the UK has nothing to do with such glamorous celebrity myths, according to new research, which reveals sightings of the birds actually date back to the 1800s. 

It has been claimed that Jimi Hendrix released the first pair of parakeets, called Adam and Eve, as a symbol of peace when he was stoned in London's Carnaby Street in 1968. A rival theory maintains that the birds escaped from the set of The African Queen, the film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, in 1951.

But a study, published today in the Journal of Zoology, reveals the birds were reported in Britain as far back as 1855, when one was seen in Norfolk.

The data was drawn from the plotting of parakeet sightings between 1968 and 2014, resulted in 5,072 points across the country. Researchers also looked at newspaper archives from 1800 onwards but did not find any news reports on parakeets being released by Hendrix or The African Queen 

The researchers now believe parakeet numbers may have been boosted by escapes from British bird houses damaged in the Great Storm of 1987.

Experts also suspect many parakeets kept as pets were released en masse after an outbreak of 'parrot fever' in 1929, 1930 and 1952, as newspaper articles urged the public to stay away from the 'dangerous birds'. 

Sarah Cox of Goldsmiths, University of London, says pet owners would have found it less distressing to simply set their bird free from a window than have it destroyed. 

Ring-necked parakeets are an exotic bird native to Asia which now terrorise many UK neighbourhoods. 

Despite originating in warmer climes, they have adapted well to British weather and actually thrive in cities such as London. 

Thursday 12 December 2019

Emus once roamed Tasmania, so what happened to them?

Posted Sat at 9:33pm

It's hard to imagine free-ranging emus foraging across Tasmanian plains in 2019.

But, there is a reason why Burnie used to be called Emu Bay. The large flightless birds once called the island state home.

The University of Tasmania's Tristan Derham said the birds were throughout Tasmania's midlands and the north-east and north-west of the state.

"It's not really clear why the emu went extinct in Tasmania," he said.

The emus were said to be a smaller sub-species of the mainland emus but there are few detailed descriptions of the bird.

Mr Derham said he had researched eyewitness accounts of emus through reports by divisive colonial leader George Augustus Robinson, explorer Matthew Flinders and the diaries of clergyman Robert Knopwood.

"I haven't found a lot of evidence they were much different from mainland emus," he told ABC Radio Hobart.

European settlers recorded feasting on emus and kangaroos upon arrival in Van Diemen's Land.

"The early colonists were crazy for hunting emus and kangaroos," Mr Derham said.

The species survived in the wild until 1865, and the last captive bird died in 1873.

One for sorrow, dozens for joy: Bird-loving woman spends time socialising with 50 magpies every morning - and says it helps her relax

Caring woman started feeding an injured magpie and now finds yard overrun 
Up to 50 magpies are waiting for her at 5.30 in the morning for breakfast
Woman thinks birds are hungry because of the drought and bush fires
Neighbours have joined in feeding the birds and aren't bothered by noise

PUBLISHED: 03:17, 4 December 2019 | UPDATED: 07:39, 4 December 2019

A bird loving woman who started caring for an injured magpie now finds her home inundated with them in the early hours of every morning. 

The woman, who lives in Oxenford in Queensland, doesn't mind the early wake up call and finds it  ''relaxing' to start each morning spending time with the birds.  

 'I usually get up at 5.30 in the morning and come out with my coffee and they are here waiting for me' Collette Dunn told 7 news

Each morning when Colette comes out with her morning coffee, she founds dozens of magpies waiting for breakfast

With a gourmet menu on offer each morning including dried crickets, meals worms, sunflower seeds, oats and premium mince, it is no wonder the birds keep returning for more. 

Good samaritan Colette started feeding the magpies after she found an injured one in her backyard. 

'It all started with one that we started feeding that had a broken beak. He told his friends!' she told the ABC

Critically endangered bird spotted in SW China

Source: Xinhua| 2019-11-24 23:28:26|Editor: Mu Xuequan

KUNMING, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) -- A white-bellied heron, also called Ardea insignis, a critically endangered bird species, was spotted and rescued in southwest China's Yunnan Province, local authorities said Saturday.

The physically exhausted bird was found in Changning County by a local villager on Nov. 10, and transferred to the Wildlife Shelter and Rescue Center of Baoshan City for feeding and nursing after identification.

"The bird has been identified as a white-bellied heron," said Han Lianxian, an ornithologist and professor at Southwest Forestry University, adding that the bird is a large heron unique to the southern slopes of the Himalayas, and listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

"The bird may be a newborn and suffered from physical exhaustion as it strayed from its natural habitat," Han said.

The researchers conducted a two-day assessment of the bird's physical condition and whether it was fit for release. The bird was released from a vast river valley in Changning on Friday, after experts determined that it had regained its physical fitness and was able to survive in the wild.

"The scarcity of white-bellied herons is closely related to their stringent habitat requirements, making them an indicator species of river ecology," Han said.

Researchers have installed a satellite tracking recorder on the white-bellied heron's back and put on an ankle ring to monitor it and develop rescue measures.

Critically Endangered Shorebird Travels Thousands of Miles to New Protected Area

December 3, 2019/in Blog /by Ethan Freedman

This year, Rainforest Trust and the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (BCST) purchased almost 20 acres of shoreline along Thailand’s Inner Gulf. This property, Pak Thale, is an important habitat for many migratory shorebird species, including the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper is an incredible — and incredibly threatened — bird. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that only 240-456 mature sandpipers are still alive, anywhere in the world. Yes, you read that right. The entire species population is no more than 500 individual birds. For reference, that’s fewer than the number of Mountain Gorillas, one of the world’s most iconic threatened species, left in the wild.

But the species, like many other shorebirds, is also a prolific migrator. They breed up in the high Arctic, from the Russian Far East down through the Kamchatka Peninsula. From there, each fall, they migrate to their wintering grounds in southeast Asia. Along the way, they stop at shoreline habitat to rest and feed before continuing on their thousands-of-miles-long journey. Each of the sandpipers are essentially on their own for the whole journey. These little birds, just about six inches long, fly out over the ocean, migrating in an all-or-nothing battle for life against the elements.

And in the spring, they do it all in reverse.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Bird evolution in Asia shaped in part by giant plateau, study finds

Colorado Arts and Science Magazine Highlight 


A new large-scale study from CU Boulder and colleagues provides first evidence that a gargantuan, inhospitable plateau in Asia maintains the species barriers of some birds​ 

In the middle of Asia, there is a vast, high-altitude desert that not only helped shape the evolution of barn swallows—and likely other birds, too—but continues to keep them distinct by altering migration paths, according to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder. 

These new findings, published this week in the journal Ecology Letters, provide the most-convincing evidence yet for a long-held hypothesis that the Tibetan plateau is an important catalyst and maintainer of the vast diversity of birds found in Asia. It does this by being a barrier that keeps them separate, sending some migrating birds to Africa and others to south and southeast Asia. 

“What we’re getting is a really consistent snapshot that different subspecies (of barn swallows), when they come together, are responding in the same way to a major geographic barrier,” said Rebecca Safran, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder and a senior author on the paper. 

“It suggests that there’s something universal about that place on planet Earth that at least different subspecies of barn swallows are responding to by migrating in different directions above it.” 

Flightless bird provides 'spark of hope' amid environmental crisis

Ten species with improved numbers in IUCN red list unveiled amid call for more biodiversity focus at COP25

by Fiona Harvey in Madrid

Tue 10 Dec 2019 13.54 GMTLast modified on Wed 11 Dec 2019 08.38 GMT

The Guam rail, a flightless bird typically about 30cm long, usually dull brown in colour and adorned with black and white stripes, has become a rare success story in the recent history of conservation.

Previously extinct in the wild, the bird has been saved by captive breeding programmes and on Tuesday its status was updated on the IUCN red list of threatened species to critically endangered, along with nine others whose numbers have recently improved.

The Guam rail fell prey to the brown tree snake, an invasive species accidentally introduced to the US island territory at the end of the second world war. It is only the second bird in history to recover from being extinct in the wild, after the California condor.

Other species to have their status updated include the echo parakeet, of which there are now more than 750 in the wild, leading to a reclassification as a “vulnerable” species, having been critically endangered more than a decade ago.

The Australian trout cod and pedder galaxias, both freshwater fish, have also showed improvement, the former moving from endangered to vulnerable and the latter from critically endangered to endangered, after many years of conservation efforts.

The 10 species showing recovered numbers were “a spark of hope in the midst of the biodiversity crisis”, said Grethel Aguilar, the acting director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, whose red list is the global gold standard data covering species on the brink. “[They] prove that nature will recover if given half a chance.”

However, the red list data released on Tuesday also showed 73 species declines despite conservation efforts, and the list now numbers 112,432 species around the world, of which more than 30,000 are on the brink of extinction.

Island 'soundscapes' show potential for evaluating recovery of nesting seabirds

DECEMBER 6, 2019

Nocturnal seabirds nesting on remote islands can be extremely difficult to study. An increasingly important tool for monitoring these populations involves acoustic sensors deployed in the field to record sounds over long periods of time. But analysis of the resulting recordings to identify and count the calls of different species can be time-consuming, even with computers and artificial intelligence.

An alternative approach for acoustic monitoring is to evaluate all of the sounds in an environment as a 'soundscape', using features such as acoustic diversity, complexity, and intensity as indicators of ecosystem health. In a new study, recently published in Restoration Ecology, researchers used soundscape analysis to evaluate the outcomes of restoration efforts in the Western Aleutian Islands.

"We learned that we can collect sound data at larger scales and understand where the ecosystem is responding to our actions," said first author Abraham Borker, who led the study as a graduate student in the Conservation Action Lab at UC Santa Cruz. Now an adjunct lecturer in ecology and evolutionary biology, Borker came to UCSC to study seabird conservation and earned his Ph.D. in 2018.

"Seabirds are special because they serve as a link between the ocean and land, transporting nutrients from the sea to land and transforming the islands they breed on," he said.

The new study took advantage of a highly successful campaign to remove invasive species and restore seabird nesting colonies in the Western Aleutian islands as a natural experiment. These remote islands, located in the Northern Pacific Ocean between Russia and Alaska, are important nesting sites for many species of seabirds.

Israeli fish farmers give peckish pelicans free lunch

DECEMBER 8, 2019

by Jonah Mandel
Great white pelicans eat fish provided by Israeli farmers at a water reservoir in the Emek Hefer valley north of Tel Aviv

Migratory pelicans have long raided Israeli fish farms, which try to deter them with loudspeakers, laser beams and by firing blank rounds from rifles.

In their desperation, they have come up with another way: offering the birds a free lunch.

An estimated 50,000 pelicans stop off in Israel during their annual migration from the Balkans to Africa, where they enjoy a mild winter before returning to Europe.

They rest and feed in the Middle Eastern country for weeks, causing chaos for fish farmers, whose outdoor commercial pools and reservoirs provide rich pickings.

Before the pelicans reach Israel, "they have nowhere to stop and eat", said Eli Sharir, general manager of the Israel Fish Breeders Association.

The impact on the fish farms is enormous.

"We're talking millions of shekels a year," he said.

So six years ago Israeli fisherman came up with a solution—providing alternative feed with unmarketable fish to try to keep pelicans away from the commercial pools.

One recent day on a reservoir in northern Israel, hundreds of great white pelicans swooped down to position themselves in the shallow waters, eyeing a truck backing up to the water's edge.

Then the truck dropped its cargo of thousands of small, live, flapping fish into the water, where they were almost instantly scooped up by the pelicans' nimble beaks.

Monday 9 December 2019

Removal from endangered list proposed after bird's rebound in Arkansas

by Emily Walkenhorst | December 2, 2019 at 6:48 a.m.

A least tern checks her eggs in May 2010 on a beach in Gulfport, Miss. On Wednesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed taking the least tern off the endangered species list.

A bird that dwells in Arkansas, the Missouri River and the lower Mississippi River no longer needs to be considered endangered, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal.

Research shows the population of least tern has rebounded from a loss of habitat related to river damming.

Colonies numbered near 500 in 2005, up tenfold from 20 years before. The population is estimated to be 18,000 now.

In Arkansas, researchers at Arkansas Tech University have been surveying the bird's population since about 2001 and recommending to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ways to help the bird. The Corps has paid the university for the surveying and research most years since then.

The least tern has a long life span, up to 20 years, said Thomas Nupp, professor of wildlife science and director of Arkansas Tech's fisheries and wildlife science program.

"That means they don't need to be successful in reproduction every year but need to be consistent over the years," Nupp said. "That was a very interesting and unique thing about their biology compared to other birds."

Owl clings to ambulance roof for trip to Bridgend A&E

2 December 2019

An owl flew into an ambulance heading to a hospital - then clung on to the blue lights until it arrived.

The bird was on the roof when the ambulance stopped at the A&E at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend at 04:00 GMT on Sunday.

Staff said the bird seemed a little stunned and had damage to its eye, but was otherwise unhurt.

Maes Glas vets agreed to look after the owl, which is now being cared for at the Gower Bird Sanctuary.

Common Buttonquail rediscovered in Algeria


Common Buttonquail has been observed again in Algeria after an absence of more than 30 years.

The species, which is more commonly referred to by European birders using its colloquial name of Andalusian Hemipode, was widely believed to be extirpated in Algeria and thus the findings are a major boost for the future conservation of this rare and endangered Western Palearctic species.

Two birds, one of which was unfortunately shot, were observed by hunters near the city of Aïn Beïda, in the country's north-east, on 30 November. The hunters were targeting Common Quail, legal quarry in Algeria, and shot one of the birds by mistake, having not realised it was something different at the time – the shooter involved is said to be regretful, having not realised the great rarity of the species.

The significance of this discovery cannot be underestimated. Not only is it the first sighting anywhere in Algeria for nearly four decades, but this is the first ever observation at an inland locality – all previous occurrences were documented along the country's Mediterranean coast.

Sunday 8 December 2019

Los Angeles Zoo uses new tactic to boost California condor population

CBS NEWS November 23, 2019, 11:08 AM

The California condor breeding program at the Los Angeles Zoo helped saved the species after it was on the brink of extinction in the early 1980s. Now, the zoo has discovered a new technique to keep the population of the largest bird in North America growing.

In 1982, there were only 22 condors, which have a wingspan of 9.5 feet, in the wild, according to Steve Kirkland, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By 1984, the breeding population was down to nine, he said.

Scientists captured all the surviving condors and the breeding program at the Los Angeles Zoo was formed, CBS Los Angeles reporter Joy Benedict reports. This year, the 1,000th condor reared his head inside a rocky hillside at Zion National Park.

"This is a California native bird. This belongs right in our backyard," said Mike Clark, the condor keeper at the zoo.

In the wild, condors might raise one chick every two years, but at the zoo, when a condor lays an egg, keepers take it, prompting the bird to lay another. Then, Clark tried something never done before. He wanted to know if a parent would foster more than one chick, so he approached a bird who knew him well.

"Here is a sexually mature bird that has been breeding for years and years and years, raised tons of chicks with another bird. She sorta kinda got attached to me because I was the only one she was interacting with," Clark said.

Read more

Rare birds spotted on the Isle of Wight

16th November

Exclusive by Dominic Kureen Reporter
THE Isle of Wight has had the pleasure of some rare visitors this week.
A bevy of black swans were spotted at Newport Harbour and along the River Medina.
Black swans are large, nomadic water birds that breed mainly in Australia.
Notable for their mostly black plumage and red bills, the large birds are not often spotted on the Island.

Mystery surrounds why hundreds of dead birds have washed up on Sydney's beaches - as experts say something is going 'drastically wrong' and declare a crisis

Corpses of short-tailed shearwaters have been spotted at several shorelines 
The birds are migrating back to southern Australia to breed but dying on way 
Krill and other fish they feed on have dwindled due to sea temperatures rising
PUBLISHED: 04:09, 18 November 2019 | UPDATED: 12:08, 18 November 2019
Hundreds of dead birds are washing up on Sydney's iconic beaches.
The corpses of short-tailed shearwaters have been spotted at several shorelines including Bondi, Manly and Cronulla.
The birds are migrating back to southern Australia to breed after spending the summer in Alaska.
Hundreds of dead birds are washing up on Sydney's iconic beaches. Pictured: The corpses of short-tailed shearwaters on an Australian beach in October
But, according to experts, a higher number than usual are dying on the way due to a lack of food.
The birds need to be at full strength to make the 14,000km trip over the Pacific but the krill and other fish they feed on have apparently dwindled due to sea temperatures rising. 
Each year around 30,000 birds land at Griffiths Island at Port Fairy in Victoria but this time only half that number have made it, according to Peter Barrand, the president of BirdLife Warrnambool. 
Explaining why, he told Yahoo News: 'Water temperatures are rising, the fish shearwaters feed on are not coming into the shallows.
'There's certainly something that's going drastically wrong'.
The Short-tailed Shearwater is Australia's most numerous seabird. 
During breeding season, millions converge on many small islands from NSW to Western Australia, with their stronghold in Bass Strait. 
After their chicks are large enough to fend for themselves, the adults leave the breeding islands and migrate north-east, flying on a broad front through the central Pacific Ocean, where immense numbers were seen by Captain Cook. 
They spend the southern winter at sea in the northern Pacific, off Japan, Siberia and Alaska.
Source: BirdLife Australia 
BirdLife Australia has rendered the problem a 'crisis'.
In a statement on its website, the group says: 'For the fifth consecutive year, the sea surface temperatures off Alaska have been unusually warm, which has led to a dire shortage of the shearwaters' marine prey, resulting in thousands of dead shearwaters being washed ashore along Alaska's beaches. 

Friday 6 December 2019

Bird evolution unique in seeing shrinking testes

DECEMBER 3, 2019 

Birds are the only group of vertebrate animals to have repeatedly evolved smaller testes over time according to a new study. 

A paper published in Ecology Letters by University of Reading researchers and colleagues has found that natural selection has led to smaller testes sizes among socially monogamous birds. The team suggest that the developments of mating behavior in birds may have led to an evolutionary loop that has led to smaller testes. 

Dr. Joanna Baker, a research fellow at the University of Reading, said, "Rapidly shrinking testes may have happened as a result of the fantastic diversity of behaviors and traits we observe in birds today: from beautiful plumage colorations in birds of paradise, elaborate dancing displays in songbirds, through to dedicated parental care through extreme weather conditions in penguins. 

"Bigger testes produce more sperm and so give animals a competitive advantage over their relatives with smaller testes, but are also very expensive to grow and maintain. Around 90% of birds are socially monogamous—where producing more sperm doesn't really matter—and so there has been lots of opportunity to reduce testes size in favor of other adaptations." 

No other vertebrate group, including mammals, frogs, fish, and reptiles showed any similar pattern to birds. Although lots of frogs are socially monogamous, unlike birds, they tend to be external fertilizers, so producing lots of sperm is probably still likely to produce extreme competitive advantages. 

In all vertebrates, testes size is astonishingly diverse, with enormous explosions of testes size change—both reductions and enlargements—during the last 400 million years of vertebrate evolutionary history. 

Village pub reopens dovecote after outrage at health-and-safety decision to seal off the 80-year-old structure with birds stuck inside

Dovecote has been by the Captain's Wife pub in the village of Sully for 80 years 
The pub claims it had taken the action on Health and Safety grounds over doves
After outrage from locals, decision to close the dovecote was reversed by pub 
PUBLISHED: 15:00, 27 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:04, 27 November 2019
A village pub caused outrage by sealing up an historic dovecote, leaving birds and their babies trapped inside.
Pest controllers were called in to cement up entrance holes to the dovecote which has been near the Captain's Wife pub in the village of Sully, near Penarth, South Wales for 80 years.
Soon after, bird lovers arrived to free the white doves and their young, which could be heard flapping around inside, and police attended the scene.
The pub claims it had taken the action on Health and Safety grounds because the doves annoy customers eating outside in the summer.
The historic dovecote provided shelter for doves and pigeons on the south Wales coast in Sully, near Penarth
But local wildlife groups say it's 'barbaric' and are asking locals to boycott the pub. 
After the outrage, the pub announced a u-turn on its decision. 
Dozens of birds had escaped before the dovecote was initially sealed off and are roosting in a nearby tree.
Campaigners say they will perish in harsh winter weather and add that a rescue operation is under way.

Dubbo's Taronga Western Plains Zoo to start regent honeyeaters breeding program

DECEMBER 1 2019 - 4:30PM

Dubbo's Taronga Western Plains Zoo will play a key role in efforts to save one of Australia's most endangered birds.
Regent honeyeaters have moved into purpose-built habitat this week, raising hopes for the future of the species.
The zoo has started a conservation breeding program for the critically endangered species, to expand on two decades of recovery efforts by Taronga Zoo in Sydney.
In a milestone for the project, four pairs of regent honeyeaters moved into their new digs at Dubbo.
Zoo team members told of the expanded program being crucial to securing a future for the species.

A Lesson for Ravens: Don’t Eat the Tortoises-Can fake tortoise shells teach predators to stop devouring soft-shelled juveniles? – via Herp Digest


OCT 8, 2019, The Atlantic


Tim Shields didn’t see any young tortoises himself. For the most part, the only sign of them was their shells, desiccated and punctured, scattered around the landscape and piled under the occasional Joshua tree. He was working on a long-term monitoring project in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, where over the past few decades juvenile tortoises had all but disappeared from the study areas. This particular year, the scientists and volunteers spotted a single live juvenile tortoise—in the beak of a raven, flailing its legs as it was carried away.

That was eight years ago, and it marked a turning point for Shields, he told me, sitting in his kitchen in Joshua Tree, California. While desert tortoises face a range of threats, for juveniles whose shells are still soft, raven predation is perhaps the biggest concern. Shields knew that past efforts to control the canny birds by shooting or poisoning them had faced legal challenges from animal activists; many scientists think, as well, that killing enough ravens to protect tortoises simply isn’t possible. So Shields went in search of an alternative.

After talking with other biologists, engineers, and even some rocket scientists—with anyone, really—he concluded that he needed to teach ravens a new way of life. Working with a diverse cadre of collaborators, including the noted raven-biologist William Boarman, the design software company Autodesk, and a science teacher from Shields’s hometown, his company, Hardshell Labs, created the “techno-tort”—an educational tool for ravens designed to get across one lesson: They ought not to eat tortoises.

Shields introduced me to the techno-tort in the front yard of his house. Originally inspired by basic styrofoam tortoises that Boarman made in the 1990s, the techno-tort is now uncannily lifelike. Lying in the sand, the 3-D-printed shell had a similar solidity and texture to the real thing but was considerably lighter. This one had been color-printed, but earlier prototypes were hand-painted—and subsequent shells have been too, while the company searches for a printing pigment that will last under the desert sun.

In the field, techno-torts will be fitted with accelerometers and methyl anthranilate, a nontoxic bird deterrent. When a raven disturbs the shell, it will let out an explosive spray with a noxious taste and odor. A more low-tech version will involve packing shells full of meat treated with another nontoxic substance that will briefly nauseate the raven. The aim is to effectively communicate, through the experience of fright or queasiness, a simple message: Stay away.

Until recently, the main approaches available to conservationists for dealing with difficult wildlife have been limited—basically fencing them out or killing them. But now pedagogic alternatives are beginning to emerge, raising the question of whether fractious relationships might be modified by a little interspecies education.

Conservationists have tried to reeducate wildlife in the past. A range of animals, from stout wallabies to the giant lizards of the Canary Islands, has undergone training on avoiding predators, with mixed results. There have been efforts to teach golden lion tamarins to eschew dangerous foods, and whooping cranes to migrate. But these projects had only small, usually captive classes of students. In recent years, behavioral interventions have been significantly scaled up.

In the Kimberley region of Western Australia, for instance, researchers have launched the world’s largest cane-toad-mitigation effort, which depends on teaching wild animals about the dangers of these toxic toads. Introduced in 1935, cane toads have caused severe population declines among many species of larger predators, from freshwater crocodiles and giant monitor lizards to the critically endangered northern quoll, a small but fierce nocturnal marsupial. To these animals, accustomed to eating local amphibians without consequence, cane toads look like a tempting meal.

Many of these predators might survive an encounter with a smaller cane toad, but the toads at the front of this advancing wave are large, highly toxic animals. So Rick Shine of Macquarie University in Sydney and his collaborators have sought to create their own advance guard. In a study led by Samantha J. Price-Rees, they introduced bluetongue lizards to nauseating sausages made of minced cane toad; in another, led by Georgia Ward-Fear, they exposed monitor lizards to juvenile, less toxic “teacher toads.” Both of these animals proved to be quick studies and began to avoid adult toads. Shine, along with a group of research and conservation partners known as the Cane Toad Coalition, is currently rolling out a multiyear project to drop teacher toads and sausages ahead of the main toad wave.

The cane toad project is meant to protect predators from their own appetites, but other new initiatives, such as the techno-torts, are trying to save vulnerable prey by reeducating the animals that eat them. On the South Island of New Zealand, a massive campaign is under way to encourage more recently arrived predators—hedgehogs, rats, cats, and ferrets—to ignore the eggs and chicks of banded dotterels, wrybills, and other birds. In two study areas totaling 1,800 hectares, plus control sites, a team of ecologists has been smearing Vaseline infused with bird scents around the landscape. This system of “chemical camouflage,” developed by Catherine Price and Peter Banks of the University of Sydney (where I work as well), starts with spreading the scent of birds for a month or so prior to the breeding season; predators learn to ignore this olfactory cue as an unrewarding distraction. The trial results are still being analyzed, but previous efforts with other species and on smaller scales produced remarkable results. In an earlier study, the nests in treated areas had a 62 percent greater survival rate than the controls.

What unites all of these projects is a curiosity about how animals learn. But teaching animals means that researchers have to do their own deep learning on the ways different animals think and behave. In Australia, researchers have found that while bluetongue lizards can be effectively trained with cane toad sausages or teacher toads, monitor lizards require the latter to retain their aversion. In New Zealand, researchers need to worry about how different predators generalize: What combination of bird scents will teach a predator to ignore all avian species? This kind of question is part of a growing appreciation of the complexity of animals’ cognitive abilities. As Shine told me, “We can attempt to use those abilities to change the outcomes of encounters between potential predators and prey in a way that probably we weren’t thinking about a decade ago.”

In Joshua Tree, Shields and Boarman showed me footage from cameras they placed out in the desert with prototype techno-torts. In one memorable clip, an adult raven confidently approaches the techno-tort and, without hesitation, flips it over and pounds down on the underside of the shell. Was she curious about a strange object in the environment? Was she wondering where this bad replica of a tortoise shell had come from? Or did she believe that she had come across the familiar form of a tortoise? From the clip, the last possibility seems likely.

Shields and Boarman are passionately interested in understanding how ravens make sense of techno-torts. They need to be. For this approach to have any chance of success, the ravens need to mistake these shells for the real thing. Otherwise they won’t be learning to avoid tortoises, just techno-torts. In other trials, the researchers are changing the shape and color of the shells to see how these tweaks influence raven interactions. Which of these cues really matter?

As I drove away from Shields’s house that afternoon, I saw a group of ravens eating roadkill. This readily available food source is just one of the many transformations to the desert that have increased raven numbers. In recent decades, human settlement has provided a steady supply of food, water, and nesting places. These changes have also destroyed tortoises’ habitat, which is now crisscrossed by roads, overtaken by human uses, and modified by introduced plants and cattle. While ravens are a worrying threat to young tortoises, they are far from the only danger.

The techno-tort project, then, might only sidestep a larger problem. This criticism is leveled at many of these “educational” projects. After all, even if they succeed, abundant numbers of ravens, cane toads, and rats will still be left roaming around. And Shields and Boarman are pretty sure that whatever they develop will work for only a limited time with crafty ravens. Alongside the techno-torts, they are working on a suite of other tools, including modified lasers and drones, to both haze and educate these birds. In the end, Shields explained to me, it’s going to be a bit like a chess match, an ongoing effort to adapt to ravens’ own prodigious capacities for learning and experimentation.

These conservationists don’t see educational approaches as a cure-all. Instead, their projects are often meant to buy time. Boarman was explicit about this: All that mitigating the impact of ravens can do, he told me, is produce a whole lot of tortoise teenagers, which will still need a desert that can support them. Shields agreed: The aim of the techno-tort, he said, is simply to “stop the hemorrhaging.” But, he went on to say, until we can modify human behavior in the desert, “we need to buy time, and we can buy time by altering raven behavior. That’s the hope.”