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 30 September 2019

Police seize illegal bird trap in a park

 24th September
POLICE seized an illegal trap used to catch wild birds.
The officers were called to a park in Wickford to deal with the large metal illegal device.
They have not revealed where the park is in the town.
A spokesman for Basildon Community Policing Team posted on Facebook: “Today, we have seized a device used in the illegal trapping of wild finches.
“This was located in the Wickford area.
“Please make us aware if you see any similar devices.
“Possession or control of a wild bird is an offence.
“Anybody possessing wild birds is obliged to show, on a balance of probabilities, that their possession is lawful.
“Finches listed on Part I Schedule 3 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 can only be legally sold if they have been bred in captivity from lawfully held parent birds, and if they are fitted with Government approved close-rings.”
A wildlife charity conservationist has blasted the illegal bird catchers.
Macbraden Bones, 48, Essex Wildlife Trust landscape conservationist area officer for the south east, said: “I have never heard or come across this before.
“This is the first time I have heard of this and have not seen a problem like this in our area.
“I am stunned by this, there are a number of concerns with this.

San Diego Zoo Releases 7 Hawaiian Crows to Help Rebuild Species in Wild

The San Diego Zoo announced Tuesday that its researchers in Hawaii released seven ‘alala, a critically endangered species also known as the Hawaiian crow, into the wild earlier this month.
Researchers at the zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program and their partners with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the birds into the Pu’u Maka’ala Natural Area Reserve on Mauna Loa.
The three entities launched a partnership two years ago known as the ‘Alala Project to reintroduce the species back into the wild. The team released five males and two females into the reserve to join other groups of ‘alala already living in the area. Roughly 20 birds now live in the reserve’s forests despite the species once being extinct in the wild.
“Recovering threatened and endangered species is bigger than any one community or agency: it takes everyone working together,” said Michelle Bogardus, a geographic team leader in Hawaii with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The research and conservation group documented multiple pairs of `alala showing breeding and courtship behaviors, including birds that were first released in 2017. The ‘Alala Project members expect the species’ recovery to take many more years, but say they are already seeing positive signs.
“‘Alala form complex bonds as breeding pairs and must work together to build their nests,” said Alison Greggor, a research associate with the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. “Having released ‘alala engage in the full suite of breeding and nest- building behaviors in their first season as adults represents a huge step forward for the program, and their recovery as a species.”
— City News Service

Your dead palm is a woodpecker home—and that's good

SEPTEMBER 23, 2019
by Angela Nicoletti, Florida International University
At the very edges of urbanization, Northern Flicker woodpeckers live in dead palm trees raising their young. Their populations are on the decline throughout the state, especially South Florida. But Joshua Diamond was lucky enough to capture a few on film, along with other species of woodpeckers.
Diamond, an FIU instructor who recently graduated with his Ph.D. in environmental science, conducted the first research on woodpecker nesting habits in South Florida. After inspecting more than 1,860 nest cavities in 967 trees, Diamond discovered that while woodpeckers nested in pines and oaks, their favorite South Florida trees are palms. Dead ones, to be exact. In fact, more than 90 percent of woodpecker holes were made in dead royal palm trees.
"People like having life in their yards or neighborhoods. They see a dead tree and want to get rid of it," Diamond said. "But they might not know how much more life it's going to bring."
Urbanization presents challenges for many species. Woodpeckers, though, have learned to live in Miami. As Diamond points out, this is a really good thing. They are a major indicator of how well we are doing at managing our cities as healthy and balanced ecosystems.
Woodpeckers are an important ecological keystone species, because when they vacate a nest, it does not go to waste. Other animals, including eastern screen owls and exotic species like parrots, take up residence. "If we lose woodpeckers, we lose a lot more," Diamond said.
The idea for Diamond's research came from his bicycle rides around South Florida. He often passed by palm trees peppered with woodpecker holes. Growing up in Washington, D.C., he was accustomed to seeing these birds make nests in oaks and other hardwood trees. It made him wonder: Why were they choosing palms?

'Extremely rare' bird seen at Nottinghamshire nature reserve after 45 years

The black-winged stilt was spotted at the Idle Valley reserve in Retford
Gurjeet Nanrah Community Reporter
11:04, 4 SEP 2019
An 'extremely rare' bird was spotted this weekend at a nature reserve in north Nottinghamshire.
The black-winged stilt was seen at Idle Valley nature reserve in Retford over the weekend - marking its first sighting in Nottinghamshire for 45 years.
It is a long-legged wader bird that is also rarely seen elsewhere in the UK.
Members of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, the charity that looks after the nature reserve along the River Idle, believe the sighting shows how the wetland reserve has great potential as a location for wildlife watching.
The trust’s head of communications Erin McDaid said: “The bird has caused real excitement. It arrived over the weekend and was still on site this Monday so a number of people have been able to see and photograph it.
"It’s a very rare visitor for Nottinghamshire, the last one was recorded in 1974 and they are still quite a rarity across the UK.”
The sighting comes ahead of the first Explore North Notts weekend on September 14 and 15 - which is part of the Heritage Open Days Festival - and is aimed at celebrating the county's historic buildings, country parks and open spaces.
September is considered a good time to visit the reserve as many birds begin their autumn migration, meaning birds that could be seen include flycatchers, garganeys, wheaters and whinchats.
A guided bird walk will take place on Sunday, September 15 from 9.30am to 11.30am, so visitors can explore the reserve and children aged 8-12 can take part in the Wildlife Watch Group’s ‘In the Swim’ event the day before which focuses on fishes and other animals that live in water.

Rangers search for roving rowi kiwi Aroha

24 Sep 2019
1:01 pm on 24 September 2019 
Department of Conservation (DOC) rangers are searching for a kiwi that is ranging far and wide.
Aroha, a rowi kiwi which needed to be rescued from snowy, mountainous terrain on the West Coast last month, has travelled 5km since being re-released.
Rowi are the rarest of the five kiwi species, with a population of only 600.
DOC reintroduced 34 of the birds to the Omoeroa ranges in December 2018, after breeding in the 2000s brought numbers back from just 160 birds in Okarito Forest.
Senior ranger Tracey Dearlove said the kiwi were wearing transmitters, but rangers were still trying to locate her for monitoring and health checks.
She said rowi kiwi going on long adventures is not uncommon, and another - Taonga - had travelled 10km towards the coastal mouth of Waikukupa River.
She said motorists should be aware the rare birds could be around State Highway 6 near the Fox Glacier township.
The population seemed to be thriving, with all but one of the birds still alive.
"Health checks of a number of the birds show that they are gaining weight and are in excellent health, with glossy feathers and very few parasites," Ms Dearlove said.
"We are really excited that the new population is thriving in this area with plenty of food and space to establish territories."

Sunday 29 September 2019

Amazing pictures show rare white stork in Cornwall

The bird is believed to be part of 24 which were released in West Sussex last week

12:59, 30 AUG 2019
A rare white stork has been spotted in Cornwall.
The incredible pictures were taken by Nathaniel Barry, a 23-year-old amateur wildlife photographer from the Perranporth area.
He spotted the majestic birds on Tuesday (August 27) at Hayle Estuary.
He said: "I had heard that there had been releases by a Sussex organisation.
"We were at Hayle Estuary, at a place called Ryan's Field. Suddenly all the birds decided to take off."
That's when Nathaniel saw a white stork for the first time in his life.
"The culprit arrived," he wrote on his Nathaniel Barry Photography Facebook page.
"With most of the estuary birds never seeing a white stork before, they weren't taking any chances!
"Why would you? Seven feet wingspan, 4ft in height... The previous largest bird there was a grey heron. But after the stork arrived I didn't see the heron return for the next four hours I was there!"
A total of 24 juvenile white storks were released on Monday, August 12, at the Knepp rewilding project in West Sussex.
There has since been reported sightings at Drift Reservoir and other spots in Cornwall.
It was part of The White Stork Project, a pioneering partnership of private landowners and nature conservation charities, which aims to restore a population of at least 50 breeding pairs in Southern England by 2030 through a phased release programme over the next five years.
According to participant Durrell, all of the storks that are part of the project have unique coloured rings on their legs, so anyone who spots a stork in the British countryside can report their sightings on the project website.
This information will help scientists to understand the movements of the birds.

Nigeria risks epidemics as vultures go extinct

By Chidimma C. Okeke
 Published Date Sep 18, 2019 0:47 AM
Nigeria is losing free ecological services as vultures go extinct in the country. The carrion feeders are a vital part of the ecosystem. They provide important ecosystem services that contribute to human health and wellbeing.
These services include removing carcasses and other organic waste from the environment, thereby, reducing the spread of diseases and contamination of water supplies.
Vultures, despite these services they render naturally are, however, faced with general population decline worldwide with a seven per cent decline yearly for the past three decades
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list of threatened species said vultures are among the most threatened group of migratory birds in the world. As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) on the first Saturday of September, a day set aside by the global body to highlight the importance of vultures and their conservation, it was observed that the birds are fast going into extinction.

Read more: 

Bird nests give up century-old rubbish secrets

SEPTEMBER 2, 2019 1:10 PM AEST

About 900 bird nests, some dating back to the late 1800s, are helping USC researchers gain rare insights into how birds interact with human materials – both dangerous and safe.
The study team, led by USC Animal Ecology lecturers Dr Dominique Potvin and Dr Kathy Townsend, is analysing museum nest specimens at the Melbourne Museum and CSIRO’s Australian National Wildlife Collection in Canberra.
“We don’t have time machines to go back over 100 years to figure out how long animals have been using debris for nest building – these historical nests give us that opportunity,” Dr Potvin said.
“The nests are essentially a snapshot of animal behaviours from generations of animals long gone and there are not many other studies that can claim to do this,” she said.
The research team, which includes visiting research student Fabiola Opitz of Germany, hopes to record geographical and historical patterns of human materials in nest building by birds.

Rare Roseate tern spotted nesting near Jersey

20 September 2019 at 1:04pm
Britain's rarest breeding seabird has been spotted on rocks off the coast of Jersey.
As many as 3 Roseate terns were sighted nesting among Common terns at Les Ecrehous off the north east coast of the island over the summer.
The bird is red listed and only four colonies remain in Europe, nesting in sites in England, Southern Ireland, Brittany.
The Roseates were the last birds to complete the 3,500 mile trip from West Africa and are believed to have stayed on Les Ecrehous between June and August.
The area has been a common nesting site for common terns. However, the nesting seabirds have faced pressure from an increase in tourism in the area, with hundreds of visitors from France and Jersey visiting the site every day during the summer.
Around 80 nests were recorded in 2019 but some of the birds did not breed as successfully, which was most likely due to human disturbance.
Last updated Fri 20 Sep 2019

Friday 27 September 2019

A Rare Greenshank Is Spotted in Russia

New York Times
One of the few things known about the Nordmann’s greenshank is that it is one of the most endangered shorebirds on earth. No one had studied the bird in depth since 1976, and its nesting habitat remained a mystery.
But this summer, an American graduate student and Russian ornithologists spotted a pair of Nordmann’s greenshanks in a larch forest near a coastal bog in far eastern Russia. They shot video of one in a nest, measured and photographed four eggs and tagged seven adult birds, a few which have been spotted again as they migrated south across Asia.
“The moment of discovery — it was pure joy,” said Philipp Maleko, a graduate student at the University of Florida, who tracked the birds for nearly two months this summer, wading through the bog and forest to spot the nest. In addition to fighting off hordes of mosquitoes, the research team traveled with an armed guard to ward off bears and wolves.
Their research marked the first in-depth investigation in decades of the Nordmann’s greenshank (Tringa guttifer), a pigeon-size bird named for a 19th-century Finnish biologist and parasitologist.
The population of Nordmann’s greenshanks has been crashing in recent decades, as a result of hunting and wetland reclamation in coastal Asia. No more than 2,000 of the birds, also called the spotted greenshank, are believed to be left in the wild, said Jonathan Slaght, the Russia and Northeast Asia coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which helped lead the research effort.
The most endangered migratory shorebird is the spoon-billed sandpiper, Slaght said. In Southeast Asia, where both species spend their winters, hunters often kill the birds to sell for food. Local conservation groups have been paying a few hundred dollars each to the hunters so they can afford fishing nets and stop killing shorebirds. “They don’t want to be hunting birds, it’s just all they can do,” Slaght said.

Endangered Vultures Killed for Rituals in Nigeria

ENUGU, NIGERIA - Across Nigeria, there's a rising demand for vultures, and poachers are driving the local population of four large vulture species to near extinction.
The Nigerian Conservation Foundation is now placing vulture preservation high on its agenda, hoping to revive the threatened population. Abidemi Balogun, a senior special conservation officer with the foundation's educational unit, is engaging with local communities where superstitions and folklore about the birds persist.
"Someone actually asked me how do they identity the evil ones because there's been a belief that vultures are evil birds," Balogun told VOA with a laugh.
She's been with the foundation for eight years and said vulture poaching was not taken seriously in the past.
Spiritual practices
She said that the birds aren't being hunted for consumption as much as they're being killed for spiritual practices. In 2017, the foundation conducted a market survey to see how the birds were traded.
"Some of the findings that we made is that the head is used for ritual purposes and the head is the most expensive part of it," she said.
In local markets, vulture feathers are sold for about 100 naira, or less than 50 cents. But the head can fetch up to 25,000 naira, or about $70.
In Nigeria's diverse cultural landscape, the beliefs around vultures vary widely. In the southwest, where they're called igún, vultures are seen as sacred in traditional spirituality. According to folklore, they can be used to communicate with the dead or to appease the gods in elaborate sacrificial ceremonies.
In northern Nigeria, they are consumed. But they're also sold by traders known as yan shinfida to be used in traditional medicine and spiritual healing.

Rare, 'Dalmatian-like' spotted magpie photographed beside Victorian road

Updated 13 Sep 2019, 8:07am
Sandy Goddard was travelling from work this week, on a road she uses most days, when an unusual sight caught her eye.
Key points:
A rare spotted magpie with a beak full of worms has been seen outside Geelong, Victoria
The bird's unusual colouring is caused by a condition called leucism
Local residents say they suspect it is feeding young
"I spotted him on the side of the road just outside of Geelong, in Victoria," Ms Goddard said.
"I thought it was a weird looking rock at first. Then he moved!"
Ms Goddard enjoys bird photography and said she was lucky to capture some clear images, after stopping on the side of the road.
"I really hope he doesn't get hit by a car, it's a bloody busy road," she said.
"He was right out the front of a house and they probably see him everyday and don't even realise how special it is."
Magpie a rare bird
Birdlife Australia's Mick Roderick said the bird's unusual spots were caused by a rare condition called leucism, a genetic variation in the cells responsible for producing black pigment.
"Birders would probably describe [it] as being 'piebald', but its plumage is explained by a condition called 'leucism'," he said.
"It's very uncommon.
"This bird has a good mix of dark (normal) and leucistic feathers, which is what makes it look piebald."
'Dalmatian magpie'
While most Australians are familiar with magpies and their distinctive, warbling song which resonates through both bush and city, many keen twitchers report they have never seen a magpie quite like this before.
Ms Goddard's photos were shared on a bird photography page on social media, where they have generated a lot of interest.

Egg collector's hoard to help study of evolution

A clutch of thousands of rare birds eggs, seized from an illegal Norfolk collector, are set to help with research into the evolution of birds after being donated to a national museum.
Daniel Lingham, 65, was sentenced to 18 weeks' imprisonment in November last year after more than 5,000 eggs were found at his home in Newton St Faith. He was also ordered to hand his entire collection of eggs to the Natural History Museum – where they are now set to provide researchers with insights into how egg shapes and sizes have evolved over time.
A researcher from the museum told BBC Radio Norfolk: "We're about to use these three clutches of lapwing eggs in a major study on the evolution of egg shape and size. One of the things that the team is most interested in is the changes over time."

Thursday 26 September 2019

Chile announces vital new regulations to protect seabirds

25 Sep 2019

At the end of last month, the Chilean Government took a vital and welcome step towards saving thousands of seabirds from being needlessly killed in their trawl fisheries by introducing new regulations making the use of mitigation measures mandatory.
New regulations introduced by the Chilean Government at the end of August will require a number of important trawl fleets to implement measures that reduce the bycatch of seabirds. This includes not only the use bird-scaring lines, which keep birds away from the trawl cables that can break their wings and kill them, but also other measures, including ‘snatch blocks’ to reduce the risk of albatrosses colliding with the net monitoring cable, and limits to the discarding of offal, which attracts birds to fishing vessels in the first place.
These regulations are the culmination of over a decade of work from our Albatross Task Force (ATF) team in Chile, who have worked alongside fishers, researchers and the national observer programmes of the Chilean Fisheries Development Institute (IFOP) and the Undersecretariat of Fisheries (SUBPESCA) to draw attention to the issue of seabird bycatch by testing and demonstrating the simple ways that these unnecessary deaths can be avoided.
“The announcement of these new regulations is wonderful news for the many albatrosses and petrels that use the seas around Chile to find food for themselves and their chicks,” Cristián Suazo, leader of ATF-Chile says. “This includes birds that breed both in our remote southern colonies and on the other side of the Pacific in New Zealand.”

Guns, predators and deforestation are pushing Samoa's national bird to extinction

Amber-Leigh Woolf 16:09, Sep 10 2019

Wellington Chocolate Factory co-founder Gabe Davidson talks about making Save the Manumea chocolate.
Kiwis are being called on to help save the national bird of Samoa from extinction - there's fewer than 200 left. 
The elusive Manumea is rarely sighted in Samoan forests due to hunting, deforestation and predators, and leaders are calling for a hunting ban to save them. 
Samoa's High Commissioner to New Zealand, Leasi Papali'i Tommy Scanlan, said the people of Samoa loved the Manumea like New Zealanders love the kiwi. 
In the 1990s, there were about 7000 Manumea - now there's fewer than 150.
"If it becomes extinct it will be a very sad day for us." 
In July, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern launched a Save the Manumea campaign in Apia with the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, and the Wellington Chocolate Factory is producing a unique chocolate bar fundraiser for the conservation effort.  
The Wellington Chocolate Factory was donated cacao from the Savai'i Koko plantation to make 700 limited edition Save the Manumea bars.
The Save the Manumea campaign calls for a ban on hunting birds as  Manumea are being accidentally shot by people hunting the Lupe, the Pacific Pigeon. 
Pigeon snaring was once a distinguished sport among Samoa's high chiefs, but Papali'i said tradition hads to change to save the Manumea. 
"When they go hunting in the heavy forest and see the big bird, they can't distinguish between the pigeon and the Manumea, and they'll shoot." 

Bird droppings defy expectations

Date:  September 24, 2019
Source:  University of Texas at Austin
For every question about bird poop, uric acid appears to be the answer.
Why are bird droppings so hard to remove from buildings? Uric acid.
Why are they white and pasty? Uric acid.
Why are they corrosive to car paint and metal structures? Uric acid.
These answers are based on the prevailing wisdom that ranks uric acid as the primary ingredient in bird "poop," which is comprised mostly of urine. (Birds release both solid and liquid waste at the same time. The white substance is the urine).
But according to Nick Crouch, a scientist at The University of Texas at Austin, uric acid can't be the answer. That's because there is no uric acid in excreted bird urine.
And after analyzing the excretions from six different bird species -- from the Great Horned Owl to the humble chicken -- he's pretty positive of that statement.
"It was easy to tell that what we had and that it was not uric acid," Crouch said.
The results were published in the Journal of Ornithology in August 2019. The study's co-authors are Julia Clarke, a professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences, where Crouch is currently a postdoctoral researcher, and Vincent Lynch a chemist and research scientist at the UT College of Natural Science.
Crouch studies bird evolution and biodiversity -- the chemistry of bird waste is not his usual research wheelhouse. However, Crouch decided to investigate the uric acid question after a conversation in 2018 with the late Jackson School Professor Bob Folk, who claimed that bird waste didn't contain uric acid.
"Sometimes you just get presented with a really weird question and you want to know the answer," Crouch said. "That was this -- I had no idea if [Folk] was right or wrong beforehand, but I was really interested to have a look."

Bald eagles have found themselves a new home: Suburbia

SEPTEMBER 23, 2019

by Louis Sahagun
For much of the spring, a constant flow of people arrived at a dirt pullout on a mountain road a few miles above Azusa, each craving a glimpse of 10-pound celebrities with 7-foot wingspans and the charisma that politicians can only dream of.
These were bald eagles, after all, the bird that spreads its wings on every dollar bill and U.S. passport. And their nest atop a pine tree overlooking a reservoir on one side and Highway 39 on the other offered a full picture of home life for these majestic raptors. It was the first time bald eagles had nested in this part of the San Gabriel Mountains in 70 years.
Voices oh-wowed. Cameras clicked. Faces smiled, and photos and video footage immediately spread on Facebook and Instagram of two energetic fledglings braving their first flights out of the brown bundle of sticks, and shrieking like high-pitched, neighing horses when their parents returned with fresh fish for dinner.
The fledglings and their watchful parents are part of a new breed of "urban eagles" moving into Southern California and throughout the nation, displaying an unusual tolerance for the clatter and commotion of city life.

Jackdaws learn from each other about 'dangerous' humans

SEPTEMBER 24, 2019

Jackdaws can learn from each other to identify "dangerous" humans, new research shows.
The birds are known to recognise individual people, and respond differently to those they see as a threat.
In the new study, by the University of Exeter, a person unknown to the jackdaws approached their nest, and scientists played a recording of either a warning call or "contact calls" (suggesting no threat).
The next time the jackdaws saw this person, the birds that had heard the warning call reacted defensively by retuning more quickly to their nests.
"One of the big challenges for a lot of animals is how to live alongside humans," said lead author Victoria Lee, a Ph.D. researcher at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
"People can provide some benefits, such as the food at bird feeders, but in some cases humans are also a threat.
"Being able to discriminate between dangerous and harmless people is likely to be beneficial, and in this case we see jackdaws can learn to identify dangerous people without having had a bad experience themselves."
The study was carried out at three sites in Cornwall, focussing on 34 jackdaw nest boxes.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Corncrakes as a Scottish breeding species 'under threat'

Numbers of one of Scotland's rarest birds remain "alarmingly low", conservationists have said.

Corncrakes migrate from Africa to breed on islands including Tiree, Lewis, Harris, Orkney and parts of Argyll and the north west Highlands.

The birds are counted by listening for the call of males.

RSPB Scotland said 870 males were recorded this summer in the core breeding areas. The figure was down from 897 in 2018.

In the last five years since 2014, when a high of 1,282 calling males were recorded, Scotland's corncrake population has decreased by more than 30%.

In recent years crofters have been encouraged to take measures to boost corncrake numbers.

European funding to support such initiatives was administered through the Scottish Rural Development Programme.

Generous grant will support curlew conservation in Sutherland

Published by surfbirds on September 13, 2019 courtesy of RSPB, surfbirds archive

RSPB Scotland is delighted to have received support from FCC Communities Foundation Ltd. for habitat restoration work at their Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve. FCC Communities Foundation Ltd. is a not-for-profit business that awards grants for community projects through the Scottish Landfill Communities Fund.

The reserve is located in Sutherland, nestled amongst the rugged peatlands, sheltered straths and mountains of the Flow Country, the largest blanket bog in Europe. It supports a wide array of wildlife – including dunlin, greenshank and hen harrier – and one area of the reserve, Forsinain Farm, provides a mosaic of grasslands and wetlands that is home to breeding curlew, one of Scotland’s most threatened birds. When properly maintained, wetlands like this are the preferred habitat for breeding curlew.

The curlew is the largest European wading bird and it is instantly recognisable with its long, downcurved bill, mottled brown colouring, long legs and distinctive ‘cour-lee’ call. The UK’s breeding population of Curlew is of international importance, being estimated to represent more than 30 per cent of the west European population. There have been worrying declines in the breeding population throughout the UK and across the globe, due to changes in land use and practices that drain or dry out their preferred wetland habitats.

12,000-year-old swamp brimming with bones reveals the ecosystem of the dodo

SEPTEMBER 11, 2019

An 1832 description of a swamp said that that it was so full of extinct animal bones that you only had to stick your hand in the water to retrieve them. Inspired by this a group of international researchers, including the Natural History Museum's Dr. Julian Hume, went in search of it.

Remarkably the team succeeded and in 2015 the swamp was re-discovered near Mare la Chaux in Mauritius. Now, a collaboration between the National Heritage Foundation and landowner Constance la Gaieté Co Ltd. has been set up resulting in the first excavation at the site.

The area has already lived up to its reputation and yielded many bones belonging to extinct Mauritian animals. Incredibly the team have found a huge diversity of species represented in the fossil record and bones at a density of around 600 per cubic metre, much higher than the other known fossil localities on Mauritius.

Dr. Hume says, "This is one of the most exciting fossil excavations I have worked on. We are literally peeling back the history of Mauritius layer by layer. The sheer volume of remains, including extinct giant tortoises, giant skinks and Dodos, a culturally significant bird to Mauritius and global icon of extinction, we have found has been incredible."

Dr. Delphine Angst, a paleontologist specializing in fossil birds from the University of Bristol, added, "This is very exciting because for the first time we have dodo bones that are well-dated and associated through time with other animals and plants."

How do you solve a problem like the seagulls?

By Giancarlo Rinaldi South Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

16 September 2019

The nuisance and mess caused by urban seagulls has been well documented.

Among their most recent targets were Scottish Championship football club Queen of the South, who issued a plea to fans not to feed the birds in a bid to tackle the problem.

But how did we get here and what can you do if, like the Dumfries team, you are having a bit of bother with the birds?

According to the RSPB, herring and lesser black-backed gulls using rooftops for nesting goes back as far as the 1940s.

Why they left their traditional seaside environment is less clear but abundant inland sources of food and safe, predator-free nesting sites on rooftops were "definite factors".

An increasingly "throw-away" society gave the gulls greater access to food sources, helping populations to grow.

And there, said RSPB Scotland, lies the most straightforward solution to tackling the problem.

"The most effective measure to discourage seagulls nesting in urban areas is to reduce access to food and the attractiveness of nest-sites," explained a spokeswoman.


Monday 23 September 2019

Scientists identify previously unknown 'hybrid zone' between hummingbird species

Date: September 17, 2019
Source: American Ornithological Society Publications Office

We usually think of a species as being reproductively isolated -- that is, not mating with other species in the wild. Occasionally, however, closely related species do interbreed. New research just published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances documents the existence of a previously undiscovered hybrid zone along the coast of northern California and southern Oregon, where two closely related bird hummingbirds, Allen's Hummingbird and Rufous Hummingbird, are blurring species boundaries. Researchers hope that studying cases such as this one could improve their understanding of how biodiversity is created and maintained.

A hybrid zone is an area where the ranges of two closely related species overlap and interbreed with one another. To map the extent of the hummingbird hybrid zone in northern California and southern Oregon, San Diego State University's Brian Myers and his colleagues collected data on the physical traits and courtship behavior of more than 300 hummingbirds in the region. Most of the breeding males across the hybrid zone had a mix of characteristics of the two species, shifting gradually from more Rufous-like birds in the north to more Allen's-like birds in the south.

The males of different hummingbird species have distinct displays, performing aerial acrobatics during which their tail feathers produce various sounds. The researchers captured hummingbirds using traps at feeders, temporarily keeping females in mesh cages, where they caught the attention of territorial males. "Sometimes the birds outsmart me," says Myers. "They'll only visit a feeder when the trap isn't on it, or they won't perform their courtship displays to the female hummingbird I'm carrying around, and this can make things very slow sometimes."

Genetically tailored instruction improves songbird learning

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

Some recent research suggests that educational achievement can be predicted based on differences in our genes. But does this really mean that genes set limits on an individual's academic potential? Or do these findings just reflect how standardized educational systems reward certain inborn learning styles and aptitudes at the expense of others?

A new UC San Francisco study conducted in songbirds supports the second interpretation, showing that what at first appear to be genetic constraints on birds' song learning abilities could be largely eliminated by tailoring instruction to better match the birds' inborn predispositions.

Education researchers have long advocated for tailoring classroom instruction to the specific learning styles of different students. However, carefully controlled studies showing the benefits of this approach have been inconclusive.

"Untangling the influences of genes and experience on educational achievement in humans is extremely challenging," said Michael Brainard, Ph.D., a professor of physiology and psychiatry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in the UCSF Center for Integrative Neuroscience. "The advantage of studying this kind of learning in songbirds is that in our experiments we can carefully control both the genetic background of individual birds and the instruction that they receive."

Bird populations in US and Canada down 3bn in 50 years

By Victoria Gill
Science correspondent, BBC News

19 September 2019

Bird populations in Asia and the US are "in crisis", according to two major studies.

The second outlines a tipping point in "the Asian songbird crisis": on the island of Java, Indonesia, more birds may now live in cages than in the wild.

Scientists hope the findings will serve as a wake-up call.

How have three billion birds disappeared?

The North America study revealed how many birds were being lost across every type of habitat - from grasslands to coasts to deserts. While it did not directly assess what was driving this, the scientists concluded that, among multiple causes, the major factor was habitat loss driven by human activity.

This study, explained lead researcher Dr Ken Rosenberg from the Cornell lab of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy, was the first to "run the numbers" on bird populations.

"We knew some species were declining," he told BBC News, "but we thought that, while rare birds were disappearing, the more generalist birds - and those better adapted to human landscapes - would be filling in the gaps."

The team's calculations were based on bringing together all the bird monitoring in North America for the past 50 years - every major survey carried out across the continent since 1970.

"What we saw was this pervasive net loss," Dr Rosenberg said. "And we were pretty startled to see that the more common birds, the everyday backyard birds and generalist species, are suffering some of the biggest losses."

That same pattern, he added, is likely to be mirrored in other parts of the world. And the situation in Asia, as the other study has shown, is a particularly striking case of a human-driven extinction crisis.

Thursday 19 September 2019

Why do birds migrate at night?

Date: September 12, 2019
Source: Southern Methodist University

It was a puzzle about birds.

Migratory birds are known to rely on Earth's magnetic field to help them navigate the globe. And it was suspected that a protein called cryptochrome, which is sensitive to blue light, was making it possible for birds to do this.

Yet many of these animals are also known to migrate at night when there isn't much light available. So it wasn't clear how cryptochrome would function under these conditions in birds.

A new study led by UT Southwestern Medical Center in collaboration with SMU (Southern Methodist University), though, may have figured out the answer to that puzzle.

Researchers found that cryptochromes from migratory birds have evolved a mechanism that enhances their ability to respond to light, which can enable them to sense and respond to magnetic fields.

"We were able to show that the protein cryptochrome is extremely efficient at collecting and responding to low levels of light," said SMU chemist Brian D. Zoltowski, who was one of the lead authors of a new study on the findings. "The result of this research is that we now understand how vertebrate cryptochromes can respond to very low light intensities and function under night time conditions."

The study was published in the journal PNAS in September.

Cryptochromes are found in both plants and animals and are responsible for circadian rhythms in various species. In birds, scientists were specifically focused on learning more about an unusual eye protein called CRY4, which is part of a class of cryptochromes.

The lab of Joseph Takahashi, a circadian rhythms expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center, worked with other UT Southwestern scientists to purify and solve the crystal structure of the protein -- the first atomic structure of a photoactive cryptochrome molecule from a vertebrate. The lab of Brian Zoltowski, an expert in blue-light photoreceptors, studied the efficiency of the light-driven reactions -- identifying a pathway unique to CRY4 proteins that facilitates function under low light conditions.

Coastal birds can weather the storm, but not the sea

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

How can birds that weigh less than a AA battery survive the immense power of Atlantic hurricanes? A new study in Ecology Letters finds that these coastal birds survive because their populations can absorb impacts and recover quickly from hurricanes—even storms many times larger than anything previously observed.

"Coastal birds are often held up as symbols of vulnerability to hurricanes and oil spills, but many populations can be quite resilient to big disturbances," explains lead author Dr. Christopher Field, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland's National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). "The impacts of hurricanes, in terms of populations rather than individual birds, tend to be surprisingly small compared to the other threats that are causing these species to decline."

Field and colleagues from five other universities studied the resilience of four species of coastal birds, including the endangered Saltmarsh Sparrow. The researchers developed simulations that allowed them to explore how disturbances like hurricanes would affect the birds' populations over time. They started with models that project population sizes into the future based on the species' birth and death rates. The research team then subjected these populations to simulated hurricanes that killed a certain number of birds. Because they were using computational simulations, the researchers were able to look at the full range of potential hurricane sizes—from storms that caused no bird deaths to storms that were more severe than anything ever observed.

Tiny penguin's clean bill of health after epic NZ-Australia swim

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

The bird was so underweight it had to be gradually reintroduced to food and the water

A tiny penguin that made the mammoth journey from New Zealand to Australia has been nursed back to health and released into the wild—in the hope it will find its own way home.

The emaciated Fiordland penguin was found struggling on rocks near Lorne, south of Melbourne, about 2,500km (1,500 miles) from its native habitat of New Zealand.

Melbourne Zoo head of veterinary services Michael Lynch said the bird was so underweight it had to be gradually reintroduced to food and the water over several weeks.

"Over time it began to put on weight again," he said.

"We then started to reintroduce it to water when it was strong enough to swim to help build up some muscle."

Fiordland penguins are known to swim large distances to forage for food, sometimes even spending so long in the ocean that they grow barnacles on their tails.

They are classified as a threatened species, with an estimated 5,000 left in the wild.