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 August 2019

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

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

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

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

But now, these wistful tales are evolving. 

More Marthas may be on the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachael Turner August 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Globally threatened corncrakes have also been spotted this summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montana hailstorm slaughters 11,000 birds

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

By Matthew CappucciAugust 21

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

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

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


Solo goose calls Sault home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 29 August 2019

Will Climate Change Cause Atlantic Puffins To Starve?

Aug 26, 2019, 10:27am

Priya Shukla Contributor Science

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

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

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

New insights into genetic basis of bird migration

AUGUST 28, 2019

by Gail Mccormick, Pennsylvania State University

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

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

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

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

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

AUGUST 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

AUGUST 28, 2019

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

Bird's eye view

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

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

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

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Scale of illegal bird killing in the Middle East revealed for the first time

A new study, has for the first time, estimated the scale and extent of the illegal killing and taking of wild birds in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran. Using a diverse range of data sources and incorporating expert knowledge, we estimate that at least 1.7–4.6 million birds of at least 413 species may be killed or taken illegally each year in this region, many of them on migration. Worryingly, this is likely to be an underestimate as data were unavailable for parts of the region. The highest illegal killing/ taking figures were mean estimates of 1.7 million birds per year in part of Saudi Arabia and 800,000 birds in part of Iran, despite in both cases data only being available only for part of the country. Estimates of illegal killing and taking in Iraq and Yemen were also relatively high with 329,000 and 273,000 birds on average estimated to be illegally killed or taken each year.

Illegal killing and taking poses a global threat to biodiversity and has attracted international attention. For example, in 2014 the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), to which most of the countries from this review are Parties, adopted a Resolution to prevent illegal killing, taking and trade of migratory birds in 2014 (UNEP/CMS 2014).

Worryingly, in this latest study, several species of global conservation concern were illegally killed or taken, including Marbled Teal, Common Pochard and European Turtle-dove (all classified by BirdLife International as Vulnerable on the global IUCN Red List). Of greater concern, Sociable Lapwing (Critically Endangered) was also reported to be known or likely to be killed illegally each year in relatively high numbers relative to its small population size. Illegal shooting and illegal trapping were the two most prevalent methods and birds were reported to be illegally killed or taken primarily for sport, but also for food, mainly as a delicacy.

In several countries illegal killing and taking was widespread throughout the country, but for other countries particular worst locations were identified. These included the Caspian Sea coast in Iran and the mountainous Kurdistan region of Iraq with more than 100,000 birds a year estimated to be illegally killed/ taken in each location and waterbirds particularly affected. Both Iran and Iraq provide important staging and wintering areas for migratory birds, especially waterbirds, and high levels of take may be a factor driving population declines of waterbirds in the Central Asian flyway.

Crows consciously control their calls

AUGUST 27, 2019

Crows can voluntarily control the release and onset of their calls, suggesting that songbird vocalizations are under cognitive control, according to a study published August 27 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Katharina Brecht of the University of Tübingen, and colleagues.

Songbirds are renowned for their acoustically elaborate songs; these show a degree of flexibility, potentially indicating that they are under conscious control. However, the observed variability in vocalizations might simply be driven by involuntary mechanisms, and need not be based on cognitive control. In the new study, Brecht and colleagues directly tested the idea that songbirds deliberately control their calls, in the sense that they can be emitted or inhibited at will, as opposed to being knee-jerk responses to food, mates, or predators.

The findings show that trained carrion crows (Corvus corone), songbirds of the corvid family, can exert control over their calls in a goal-directed manner. In a detection task, three male carrion crows rapidly learned to emit calls in response to a visual cue(colored squares) with no inherent meaning ("go-trials"), and to withhold calls in response to another cue. Two of these crows were then trained on a task with the cue colors reversed, in addition to being rewarded for withholding vocalizations to yet another cue ("nogo-trials").

Saving sage-grouse by relocation

Date: August 26, 2019
Source: Washington State University

Moving can be tough, but eventually most of us acclimate to new surroundings.

That's true for humans, and research from Washington State University shows it's the same for sage-grouse too.

A team of scientists successfully moved sage-grouse, a threatened bird species in Washington state, from one area of their range to another to increase their numbers and diversify their gene pool. A WSU study on the project in The Journal of Wildlife Management shows relocating the birds is a viable and productive step towards helping their population recover in the state.

"In the first year after moving sage-grouse in, they tended to move around a lot and didn't reproduce as effectively as the native population," said Kyle Ebenhoch, a researcher now working at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). "It took them about a year to settle in and get used to their new surroundings."

Ebenhoch, a WSU graduate student during this project, wrote the paper with WSU School of the Environment professors Daniel Thornton, Lisa Shipley, and Jeffrey Manning. Kevin White, a contract wildlife biologist with the Yakima Training Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was also a member of the research team. The training center hosts a population of sage-grouse where the relocation work was done.

An adjustment period

Ebenhoch wanted to investigate how newly introduced sage-grouse would survive and reproduce in order to determine if relocating birds to the area could be a workable way of keeping the species from further decline in Washington.

It turns out, the birds can adjust, though the training center population continued to decline.

"The birds did adjust to their new surroundings, but it didn't stabilize the population," Ebenhoch said. "This can be one tool in our toolbox for helping, but we'll need more research to find other tools as well."

Using artificial intelligence to track birds' dark-of-night migrations

In a first, UMass Amherst, Cornell use AI to mine big migration data on massive scale

Date: August 28, 2019
Source: University of Massachusetts at Amherst

On many evenings during spring and fall migration, tens of millions of birds take flight at sunset and pass over our heads, unseen in the night sky. Though these flights have been recorded for decades by the National Weather Services' network of constantly scanning weather radars, until recently these data have been mostly out of reach for bird researchers.

That's because the sheer magnitude of information and lack of tools to analyze it made only limited studies possible, says artificial intelligence (AI) researcher Dan Sheldon at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Ornithologists and ecologists with the time and expertise to analyze individual radar images could clearly see patterns that allowed them to discriminate precipitation from birds and study migration, he adds. But the massive amount of information ¬- over 200 million images and hundreds of terabytes of data -- significantly limited their ability to sample enough nights, over enough years and in enough locations to be useful in characterizing, let alone tracking, seasonal, continent-wide migrations, he explains.

Clearly, a machine learning system was needed, Sheldon notes, "to remove the rain and keep the birds."

Now, with colleagues from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and others, senior authors Sheldon and Subhransu Maji and lead author Tsung-Yu Lin at UMass's College of Information and Computer Sciences unveil their new tool "MistNet." In Sheldon's words, it's the "latest and greatest in machine learning" to extract bird data from the radar record and to take advantage of the treasure trove of bird migration information in the decades-long radar data archives. The tool's name refers to the fine, almost invisible, "mist nets" that ornithologists use to capture migratory songbirds.

Monday 26 August 2019

Yellow-eyed penguin deaths in set nets highlight need for urgent action - Forest and Bird


Forest and Bird is calling for urgent action to better protect the endangered yellow-eyed penguin from fishing threats.

The conservation group claims the survival of the population "depends on what is essentially a guessing game".

That’s because in the 2017/2018 data period there were three reported incidents, but an observer rate of just 10.4 per cent, Forest and Bird says.

It therefore estimates 30 hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguins, died in the data period, due to set nets.

The incidents occurred in the East Coast South Island fishery and the Southland to Fiordland fishery.

The Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust agrees with Forest and Bird that set nets pose a risk but believes the number of hoiho killed as a result would have been less than 30.

It says the Aquatic Environment and Biodiversity Annual review for 2017 estimated 17 birds would have died.

The trust said set nets are just one of the many threats facing the species, with starvation a particular concern this year.

"With only 10 per cent observer coverage in these fisheries we can never know the full picture of what is happening at sea. The survival of our mainland hoiho population depends on what is essentially a guessing game," says Forest and Bird’s chief executive Kevin Hague.

"Government proposals to create marine reserves and protected areas on the South Island’s east coast and a proposed new threat management strategy are positive steps but leave the threat to penguins from set net fishing wide open," he says. 

A draft Hoiho Threat Management Strategy and accompanying action plan, currently open for consultation, don’t propose any concrete steps to protect the mainland population of hoiho from fishing threats, Mr Hague says.

Conflicting consequences of climate change for Arctic nesting geese

AUGUST 22, 2019

Life over the last half-century has been pretty good for populations of Svalbard barnacle geese. A hunting ban implemented in the 1950s in their overwintering area in Scotland has led to explosive population growth, from roughly 2800 birds in 1960 to more than 40,000 birds today.

But what will happen to these birds and others that migrate to Arctic nesting grounds as the climate grows warmer?

A warmer climate in the Arctic might seem beneficial, but shorter winters with earlier springs, as have already been recorded in places like Svalbard, are not necessarily good for birds that migrate there. Birds can arrive too late to match their breeding period with peak availability of their food, just one possible issue raised by climate change. Another problem is that even when the birds can benefit from earlier springs, their predators can benefit from climate change, too.

Now, a team of researchers from Norway and the Netherlands has described just how climate change affected a local Svalbard barnacle geese population. They've found that so far, climate change has been both good and bad for the birds—with a net zero effect.

"When you consider the earlier springs, it's good news, so far," says Kate Layton-Matthews, a Ph.D. candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics and the first author of the new study. "But the predation part outbalances the benefits from climate change."

Urban living leads to high cholesterol... in crows

AUGUST 26, 2019

Crows living in urban environments with access to discarded human food have higher blood cholesterol levels than their rural cousins. Credit: Andrea Townsend

Animals that do well in urban areas tend to be the ones that learn to make use of resources such as the food humans throw away. But is our food actually good for them? A new study published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications suggests that a diet of human foods such as discarded cheeseburgers might be giving American Crows living in urban areas higher blood cholesterol levels than their rural cousins.

Hamilton College's Andrea Townsend and her colleagues sampled the blood cholesterol levels of 140 crow nestlings along an urban-to-rural gradient in California, returning to track their survival rates after they fledged. They found that the more urban the environment, the higher the blood cholesterol of the crow nestlings raised there. To directly test the effects of human food, the researchers also provided nestlings in a rural New York population with a regular supply of McDonald's cheeseburgers and compared their blood cholesterol levels with those of nearby crows who had to fend for themselves. The crows who were fed cheeseburgers ended up with higher cholesterol levels than their neighbors, similar to those of the urban crows in California.

Sunday 25 August 2019

Artificial trees capture new bird species on candid camera

AUGUST 23, 2019

by Jane Faure-Brac, Australian National University

An experiment from The Australian National University (ANU) using artificial trees has attracted birds and other wildlife never before seen in a damaged Canberra landscape—catching them on camera at the same time.

The experiment is a collaboration with the ACT Parks and Conservation Service and uses a series of power poles and translocated dead trees erected in landscape under regeneration.

The ANU researchers saw a four-fold increase in bird species on five recently erected power-poles. There was also a seven-fold increase in bird species across five re-purposed dead trees.

In a separate project on the same site, the birds were captured on motion-sensitive cameras hidden in the artificial structures, with the footage providing a public database for species activity.

Associate Professor Philip Gibbons from the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society wanted to test whether artificial structures could be used to provide a home for birds and other wildlife when mature trees were cut down for residential and other development.

He says the artificial trees work better than he "could have ever hoped for."

"Even if we plant new trees elsewhere to replace those we knock down they take a century to mature and develop suitable habitats for birds and wildlife," Associate Professor Gibbons said.

Birds balance sexiness and predator avoidance by changing color

AUGUST 23, 2019

by Silvia Dropulich, Monash University

Most birds remain the same color year-round, replacing their feathers only once a year.

But some birds undergo a seasonal color change and replace some of their feathers twice each year—often alternating between dull and bright feathers.

Now an international study led by a research team from the Monash University has discovered why.

The researchers tested the evolutionary drives of seasonal color change in birds from around the world. Their findings are reported today in, Ecology Letters.

The study found that seasonal color change in birds evolved in species where birds are under pressure to be colorful for sexual attractiveness but also face high predation risk, where it is better to be dull to avoid detection.

"This trade-off is a classic problem in ecology, and studying color change in birds gives insight into how animal colors evolve," said study author Associate Professor Anne Peters, from the School of Biological Sciences.

"The results suggest that seasonal color change is an adaptation that allows birds to have the best of both worlds: they can be sexually attractive and bright while breeding, but also dull colored and difficult to detect by predators outside the breeding season."

Big brains or big guts: Choose one

AUGUST 23, 2019

Big brains can help an animal mount quick, flexible behavioral responses to frequent or unexpected environmental changes. But some birds just don't need 'em.

A global study comparing 2,062 birds finds that, in highly variable environments, birds tend to have either larger or smaller brains relative to their body size. Birds with smaller brains tend to use ecological strategies that are not available to big-brained counterparts. Instead of relying on grey matter to survive, these birds tend to have large bodies, eat readily available food and make lots of babies.

The new research from biologists at Washington University in St. Louis appears Aug. 23 in the journal Nature Communications.

"The fact is that there are a great many species that do quite well with small brains," said Trevor Fristoe, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at Washington University, now at the University of Konstanz in Germany.

After using tools, crows behave more optimistically, study suggests

AUGUST 23, 2019

by Peter Reuell, Harvard University

It's no secret crows are smart. They're notorious for frustrating attempts to keep them from tearing into garbage cans; more telling, however, is that they are one of the few animals known to make tools.

But would you believe doing it actually makes them happy?

That's the finding of a recent paper, co-authored by Dakota McCoy, a graduate student working in the lab of David Haig, George Putnam Professor of Biology, who found that crows behaved more optimistically after using tools. The study is described in an Aug. 19 paper in Current Biology.

"What this suggests is that, just the same way we enjoy something like solving a crossword, they actually enjoyed simply using a tool," McCoy said. "I think it suggests there's a lot more going on in that little head than we think. They get satisfaction out of doing things they're good at, have trained for their whole lives, and that they use frequently."

While tool use in the animal kingdom is not unheard of—chimps use sticks to "fish" for termites and other animals use rocks to smash open nuts or shells—New Caledonian crows stand out for manufacturing multiple complex tools and regularly refining their designs.

Thursday 22 August 2019

Scots woman visited twice daily by seagull she formed unusual friendship with 10 years ago

Maggie Burns-Bellingham, 71, was moved when she saw the injured bird hopping around her garden on one leg, back in 2012.

Arthur Vundla
Lynn Love
10:35, 21 AUG 2019

A widow told how she formed a friendship with a seagull nearly a decade ago - which visits her twice a day.

Maggie Burns-Bellingham, 71, was moved when she saw the injured bird hopping around her garden on one leg, back in 2012.

She named him Mr Seagull , and began hiding Nurofen inside bits of chicken from M&S to nurse him back to health.

But the brazen seagull hung around after he recovered - and for the past seven years, he has visited twice a day.

Maggie said: "When Mr Seagull first came, he kept trying to walk using one leg.

"I felt sorry for him and I just wanted to help.

"I ended up giving him pieces of chicken and hid painkillers inside them, and I did that for a couple of months.

"He would arrive in the morning and come back at teatime.

"He then went away at the end of June and came back in March - that must be their mating season.

"He came back the following year and both legs were on the ground."

Stunned Maggie, who owned a bridal shop before retiring, told her friends - who refused to believe her.

She added: "No one could believe it was him but it was. 
"It felt so nice to see him at his best.

"I would have not normally fed a seagull but he was special.

"He also needed help."

Since her husband Frank died 12 years ago, from Alzheimer's disease, Maggie has lived alone in a cottage in Perth .

She believes Frank would be proud of her friendship with Mr Seagull.

These migratory birds will risk their lives for a good nap

AUGUST 19, 2019

When driving across country, people can only make it so far before stopping off to rest. Likewise, most migratory songbirds must make stops during their long-distance journeys to sleep along the way. Now, researchers have evidence that songbirds tuck themselves in differently depending on just how worn out they really are.

As reported in the journal Current Biology on August 19, birds that are low on fat reserves will tuck their heads under their feathers for a deep snooze. They do so despite the fact that this more restful sleeping position slows their reaction to the sound of potential trouble. By comparison, birds in better shape stop and sleep with their head facing forward, untucked, and more alert.

"We discovered that migratory birds trade off safety for lower energy expenditure," said Leonida Fusani of the University of Vienna and University of Veterinary Medicine, Austria. "If they sleep with their head tucked in the scapular feathers, they enter a sort of deeper sleep that is associated with lower energy consumption but exposes them to a higher predation risk. Consequently, birds in good condition sacrifice some energy to sleep more safely with the head untucked, whereas birds in poor condition sacrifice vigilance to save energy while sleeping unsafely tucked in."

Genetic diversity couldn't save Darwin's finches

AUGUST 21, 2019

by Michael Miller, University of Cincinnati

A study by the University of Cincinnati found that Charles Darwin's famous finches defy what has long been considered a key to evolutionary success: genetic diversity.

The research on finches of the Galapagos Islands could change the way conservation biologists think about a species' potential for extinction in naturally fragmented populations.

UC graduate Heather Farrington and UC biologists Kenneth Petren and Lucinda Lawson found that genetic diversity was not a good predictor of whether populations of finches would survive. The study was published in Conservation Genetics.

A UC lab analysis of century-old museum specimens found that six of eight extinct populations had more genetic diversity than similar museum specimens from which descendants survive today. In most other species, low genetic diversity is a signal of a population in decline.

Researchers examined 212 tissue samples from museum specimens and living birds. Some of the museum specimens in the study were collected by Darwin himself in 1835. Only one of the extinct populations, a species called the vegetarian finch, had lower genetic diversity compared to modern survivors.

Lawson said the findings are explained by the fact that these birds can migrate in between populations.

Wednesday 21 August 2019

'Ghost magpies' add intrigue to Edmonton's urban wildlife

Updated: August 17, 2019

Magpies are objects of disdain for many Edmontonians, despised for rude morning wake-up calls and a tendency to dive-bomb pets and children. But unusual and striking ‘ghost magpies’ living around the city are catching the attention of avid birdwatchers and passersby alike.

Ghost magpies are birds that, through a genetic mutation, exhibit imperfect albinism. The mutation means the amount of black pigmentation in their feathers is much lower than in normal black-billed magpies, giving them a distinct white-grey colouring and, curiously, blue eyes.

According to Royal Alberta Museum ornithologist Jocelyn Hudon, the phenomenon is highly unusual, and Edmonton could be called the world’s ghost magpie capital.

“They’ve been seen outside of Edmonton, the odd record of one in Calgary or Red Deer, or even way in the north or Saskatchewan. But there’s more in Edmonton than anywhere else,” he said.

Hudon discussed the topic from inside the museum’s natural history gallery, where a display houses a sample ghost magpie, juxtaposed by a normally coloured specimen.

The prevalence of the odd avians in Edmonton likely traces back to a single magpie that displayed the mutation many years ago, Hudon says. Over time, more birds have taken on the distinct quality or have carried the mutation, making ghost magpies a trademark of Edmonton’s urban wildlife.

“There’s a specimen at the University of Alberta going back to 1946. So they’ve been around for quite some time, and all the birds we see today are presumably descendants of that individual or its predecessors,” Hudon said, estimating 15 to 25 of the strange birds now live here.

Kea heroically rescued from West Coast crevasse

Tom Kitchin 20:00, Aug 19 2019

A glacier guiding crew saved a kea from death after it was stuck in an icy crevasse on the West Coast for three days.

The rescuers tried to use ropes, ladders and ice to save the native bird, but it took a backpack to bring it to safety.

Fox Glacier Guiding senior guide Kelsey Porter said her colleagues heard a kea squawking near a popular feature on the glacier on August 6.

"[They] tried to do a rescue that first day they saw it, but time was a bit limited 'cause they had to fly [a helicopter] off the glacier," she said.

"One of the guides lowered down into the crevasse and tried to reach for it, but the crevasse was too narrow for him to fit."

The crevasse was about seven metres deep and about 30 centimetres wide.


Scottish gamekeeper who killed protected birds of prey avoids jail

Campaigners call for stiffer penalties after Alan Wilson given community sentence

A sheriff has criticised Scotland’s weak wildlife crime laws after a gamekeeper convicted of killing protected birds of prey and mammals avoided a prison term.

Alan Wilson, 60, pleaded guilty in July to shooting and trapping badgers, an otter, goshawks and buzzards and installing 23 illegal snares in a small wood on a grouse- and pheasant-shooting estate at Longformacus near Duns.

Wilson, then a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, also admitted using snares illegally and possessing two bottles of carbofuran, a banned carbamate nerve agent used to poison birds of prey.

Sheriff Peter Paterson, sitting at Jedburgh sheriff court, said such crimes usually deserved a prison sentence. However, the Wildlife and Countryside Act allowed sentences of up to six months, and Scottish ministers had recently introduced a presumption against jailing offenders for less than 12 months.

“It highlights the difficulties with the legislation,” Paterson said. “If it wasn’t for this provision [on short-term sentences] then in my view a custodial sentence would have been appropriate.”

Sunday 18 August 2019

Extinct Caribbean bird yields DNA after 2,500 years in watery grave

Date: August 15, 2019
Source: Florida Museum of Natural History

Scientists have recovered the first genetic data from an extinct bird in the Caribbean, thanks to the remarkably preserved bones of a Creighton's caracara from a flooded sinkhole on Great Abaco Island.

Studies of ancient DNA from tropical birds have faced two formidable obstacles. Organic material quickly degrades when exposed to heat, light and oxygen. And birds' lightweight, hollow bones break easily, accelerating the decay of the DNA within.

But the dark, oxygen-free depths of a 100-foot blue hole known as Sawmill Sink provided ideal preservation conditions for the bones of Caracara creightoni, a species of large carrion-eating falcon that disappeared soon after humans arrived in the Bahamas about 1,000 years ago.

Florida Museum of Natural History postdoctoral researcher Jessica Oswald extracted and sequenced genetic material from a 2,500-year-old C. creightoni femur from the blue hole. Because ancient DNA is often fragmented or missing, Oswald had modest expectations for what she would find -- maybe one or two genes. But instead, the bone yielded 98.7% of the bird's mitochondrial genome, the set of DNA that most living things inherit only from their mothers.

Thursday 15 August 2019

Plea to trace golden eagle spotted flying in north-east with leg caught in trap

13/08/2019, 4:10 pm

A tourist raised concerns for the eagle's welfare after spotting it flying in Crathie, Deeside on Thursday

An appeal has been launched to help find a golden eagle spotted in the north-east with a trap on its leg.

Officers are looking to trace the raptor, which was seen flying in Crathie on Thursday.

Police have launched an investigation with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) after a tourist raised concerns for the eagle’s welfare.

Anyone with information has been urged to contact either Police Scotland or the RSPB.

Officers have released an image of the bird which shows the trap attached to its legs.

Sergeant Kim Wood said: “We would encourage anyone who has information which could help to locate this eagle to contact police on 101 or another relevant authority as soon as possible.”

The Cairngorms is the most likely place in the north-east for people to spot golden eagles in the wild.

The mountain range has been declared as an area of European importance for the bird of prey.

The bird has protected status under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and is classified as an amber-list species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review.

Savi's Warbler nests in Wales for first time


Savi's Warbler has nested in Wales for the first time ever, according to RSPB Cymru.

Following the discovery of a singing male at the RSPB's Cors Ddyga reserve, Anglesey, on 14 June, a second individual was seen there a month later. Volunteers kept a close eye on the birds and saw behaviour that confirmed they were breeding, including carrying food to an unseen nest.

Savi's Warbler, known for its long, buzzing song that carries across reedbeds, is a rare visitor to Britain, with most appearing in the south and east of England. There are only eight previous records in Wales – including one at Cors Ddyga back in 1999. While common in southern Europe, they are at the very limit of their range here and breeding attempts are sporadic, though perhaps under-recorded given the species' shy and retiring nature. Most records are of singing males that stay just for a few days, which makes confirmed nesting an exciting result for the staff, volunteers and birdwatchers on the reserve.

This follows the successful establishment of other rare species on the reserve – Eurasian Bittern and Western Marsh Harrier have both nested for the fourth consecutive year. Prior to 2016, neither species had nested in Wales for several decades.

Ian Hawkins, RSPB Cors Ddyga Site Manager, said: "We're absolutely thrilled to confirm that the first pair of Savi's Warblers are nesting here on the reserve. It goes to show that all the work we've put in to restore the wetland habitats has paid off and it's safe to say that Cors Ddyga is a nationally important place for nature. Let's hope our work will attract new species as their breeding ranges move northwards and westwards in response to climate change."

Saddleworth branded a "death zone" for rare birds

Saddleworth has been branded a “death zone” for birds of prey in a damning report by the national bird conservation organisation.

The area, including parts of the Peak District, has been highlighted by Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK.

He says: “In September last year, a climber heard gunshots and saw a red kite fall from the sky near Saddleworth Moor.

“A short-eared owl was also found shot in September last year near Wessenden Head. It was alive but had to be euthanised because of its injuries.

“A month later a tawny owl was discovered close to where the short-eared owl was found. It too had been shot.

“We also know, from a recent scientific paper, illegal killing is largely why we’re seeing next to no peregrines and goshawks nesting in the Dark Peak.”

And he added: “These are despicable acts which are robbing people of the chance to see these incredible birds in the wild.

“And it’s why the RSPB has launched an appeal, asking everyone who is as outraged as we are about these crimes, to get behind our work and help us make raptor persecution a thing of the past.

Study reveals key wintering locations for declining songbird


Many of North America's migratory songbirds, which undertake awe-inspiring journeys twice a year, are declining at alarming rates. For conservation efforts to succeed, wildlife managers need to know where they go and what challenges they face during their annual migration to Latin America and back.

For a new study published by The Condor: Ornithological Applications, researchers assembled an unprecedented effort to track where Prothonotary Warblers that breed across six states in the eastern US go in winter, and found that nearly the entire species depends on a relatively small area in Colombia threatened by deforestation and sociopolitical changes.

Ohio State University's Christopher Tonra and his colleagues co-ordinated the deployment of 149 geolocators – tiny devices that use the timing of dawn and dusk to estimate birds' locations – on Prothonotary Warblers captured at sites across their breeding range. When the birds returned to their nesting sites the following year, the researchers were able to recover 34 devices that contained enough data for them to use. The geolocator data showed that regardless of where they bred, most of the warblers used the same two major Central American stopover sites during their migration and spent the winter in a relatively small area of northern Colombia. Additionally, many Prothonotary Warblers appeared to winter in inland areas, rather than in coastal mangrove habitat, which previous studies had suggested they relied on most heavily.

Hopes raised for endangered hen harriers with bumper breeding season

Dozens of hen harrier chicks have been successfully reared in England this year in what has been a “record” breeding season for the threatened bird.

There were a total of 15 nests, with 15 successful breeding pairs and 47 chicks, outdoing the previous recorded best for England in 2006 of 46 birds, government conservation agency Natural England said.

Tony Juniper, the agency’s chairman welcomed the “better breeding season” but warned hen harrier numbers were still far from where they should be, with the birds of prey victims of illegal persecution.

Over the last two years, 81 chicks have been raised to fledging, outstripping the total for the previous five years combined, the figures show.

Chicks have also hatched in a wider variety of areas this year, including in Northumberland, Yorkshire Dales, Nidderdale, Derbyshire and Lancashire.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Scent brings all the songbirds to the yard

AUGUST 12, 2019

"The sense of smell has been very understudied in birds, particularly songbirds, because they frequently have such impressive plumage and song variation," says Amber Rice, an evolutionary biologist at Lehigh University. "Some other recent work has documented that species of songbird can smell and prefer their species' odors, but this is the first example in currently hybridizing species that we know of." Credit: Lehigh University

Chickadees can smell! That is the news from a study out of Lehigh University, the first to document naturally hybridizing songbirds' preference for the scent of their own species.

Amber Rice, an evolutionary biologist at Lehigh, studies natural hybridization-when separate species come into contact and mate-to better understand how species originate and how existing species are maintained. The two species that make up the hybridized population she studies are the black-capped chickadee and its relative the Carolina chickadee.

Rice and Ph.D. student, Alex Van Huynh, set out to test the potential for scent to act as a mate choice cue, contributing to reproductive isolation between the black-capped and Carolina chickadees who live in the "hybrid zone" in the eastern Pennsylvania region where Lehigh is located.

Huynh and Rice found that both black-capped and Carolina chickadees produce chemically distinct natural oils. Testing both males and females of both chickadee species, they found that males and females prefer the smell of their own species over the smell of the opposite species. These preferences could be impacting hybridization. Their results have been published in an article entitled: "Conspecific olfactory preferences and interspecific divergence in odor cues in a chickadee hybrid zone" in Ecology and Evolution.

Giant penguin fossil found in New Zealand

AUGUST 14, 2019

Canterbury Museum researcher Vanesa De Pietri (L) said the discovery reinforces the theory that penguins attained great size early in their evolution

The fossilised remains of a huge penguin almost the size of an adult human have been found in New Zealand's South Island, scientists announced Wednesday.

The giant waddling sea bird stood 1.6 metres (63 inches) high and weighed 80 kilograms, about four times heavier and 40cm taller than the modern Emperor penguin, researchers said.

Named "crossvallia waiparensis", it hunted off New Zealand's coast in the Paleocene era, 66-56 million years ago.

An amateur fossil hunter found leg bones belonging to the bird last year and it was confirmed as a new species in research published this week in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.

Canterbury Museum researcher Vanesa De Pietri said it was the second giant penguin from the Paleocene era found in the area.

"It further reinforces our theory that penguins attained great size early in their evolution," she said.

Scientists have previously speculated that the mega-penguins eventually died out due to the emergence of other large marine predators such as seals and toothed whales.

Global tracking devices negatively affect the survival rate of sage-grouses

AUGUST 13, 2019

A new study in The Condor: Ornithological Applications finds that currently-available global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices, previously thought to not alter animal survival rates, can decrease greater sage-grouse survival.

The researchers monitored sage-grouse survival at 14 sites throughout California and Nevada. Between 2012 and 2017, VHF transmitters were attached to 821 female and 52 male sage-grouse. GPS devices were attached to 234 female and 125 male sage-grouse.

Researchers here combined the measured survival of the tracked sage-grouse throughout the duration of the study with models to estimate independent random effects and correlating fatalities, to determine differences in the survival rate for sage-grouse fitted with GPS devices versus those fitted with VHF transmitters.

Songbirds silenced as Colombia fights wildlife trafficking

AUGUST 14, 2019

by Joshua Goodman

In this Aug. 5, 2019 photo, canaries caught from the wild by animal traffickers sing in their cages in a quarantined area of a wildlife center before being freed in Bogota, Colombia. Songbird competitions have been a pastime throughout the Caribbean for centuries, but trapping wildlife without a license is a crime in Colombia. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

The metal doors of a shoebox-sized cage open up and a bird tagged #811 launches into a giant aviary. The palm-sized finch performs a midair pirouette, lands on a willow branch and curiously twitches its saffron-colored head sideways, as if surprised by its good fortune.

"That's what it feels like to be free," said Juan Camilo Panqueba, a veterinarian at a quarantine center in Colombia's high Andean capital, far from the canary's natural habitat along the humid, Caribbean coast.

The moment of liberation contrasts with the dreadful conditions in which the finch was found. Three weeks ago, police in the capital seized 32 finches in a surprise raid on a cockfighting ring where a high-stakes, booze-filled songbird contest billed as "the clash of titans" on social media was taking place.

While sparring by way of song has been a pastime throughout the Caribbean for centuries, trapping wildlife without a license—even species like these saffron finches, or Sicalis flaveola, which are not threatened—is a crime in Colombia, though one that authorities ignored in a country overrun by drug cartels, leftist guerrillas and other armed groups

Monday 12 August 2019

A rare 'one in a million' albino magpie is living in a Croydon garden

The white bird has been spotted by homeowners in Shirley

Sam Truelove Senior reporter
16:01, 24 JUL 2019
UPDATED17:38, 24 JUL 2019

A rare albino magpie is thought to be living in Croydon due to it regularly being spotted in residents' gardens.

The white bird, believed to be "one in a million", has been spotted by homeowners in Pinewood Close, Shirley .

Martyn Burnley first saw the rare specimen around five weeks ago, and the 66-year-old says he has seen it every day since.

"It's around all of the time," the semi-retired financial director said.

"It comes out in the mornings and evenings and it seems to have happily bedded in with a family of normal magpies."

The albino magpie is often spotted in gardens of homes on Pinewood Close, as well as in nearby woodland.

Mr Burnley, who believes the bird has a black and white mate, initially thought it could have been a dove.

"We saw that it was a white bird and we all thought it was a dove at first," he said.

"When it appeared in the garden I managed to take a photograph. One of the cats was about to pounce before I pictured it on the lawn.

"We were told it has the tail of a magpie and realised it must be one due to it is always playing with other magpies."

NZ joins Samoa campaign to save manumea national bird

4:44 am on 30 July 2019 

Samoa's campaign to save its national bird, the manumea, was jointly launched on the weekend by New Zealand's Prime Minister.

Jacinda Ardern joined Samoa's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, for the launch in Apia.

It's estimated that there are no more than 200 manumea in the forests of Samoa, the only country where this species of pigeon is found.

Speaking at the launch, Fiame said the manumea had significant value for Samoa's culture and heritage.

"But many of our people will be unaware of this rather shy and cryptic bird which is now classified by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature as critically endangered and is on the red list of endangered species of 2018."

"There is also some poignancy that our manumea is one of the last living relatives of the dodo, a bird that has been extinct since 1681 but remains an icon of global conservation efforts," she said.

The deputy Prime Minister said the manumea the campaign was designed to do more than simply raise awareness of the endangered bird.

She has called on Samoa's public to consider changing the actions that many are taking which put the national bird and other biodiversity at risk.

Fiamē has encouraged local villages to help the ministry of environment by advising local pigeon hunters to support the campaign for Samoa's national bird.

A manumea mural was also launched last Saturday with a painting of the national bird on the eastern wall of the New Zealand High Commission office in Apia.