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 29 November 2019

Jackdaw mobs flip from chaos to order as they grow

Date: November 15, 2019
Source: University of Exeter

Chaotic mobs of jackdaws suddenly get organised once enough birds join in, new research shows.

The birds form mobs to drive away predators near their nests, and are initially disordered.

But the new study, by biologists at the University of Exeter, physicists at Stanford University and computer scientists from Simon Fraser University in Canada, shows a dramatic switch to "ordered motion" once the group reaches a certain density.

The study also reveals that jackdaws follow different rules when mobbing predators than when flying to winter roosts.

"Traditionally, it is thought that flocking -- and other collective behaviour like swarms, fish schools and human crowds -- occurs when each individual follows an identical set of rules to every other in the group," said Dr Alex Thornton, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

"This study shows that these rules are actually flexible.

"When flying to their winter roosts, jackdaws follow what we call 'topological rules' -- meaning that they respond to the movements of a fixed number of neighbours, and groups remain ordered regardless of how many birds are flying together.

"When mobbing a predator, however, the jackdaws instead use 'metric rules' where they respond to all the neighbours that are within a given distance. Here, we see order emerging from chaos.

"Jackdaws issue an alarm call to draw other birds to the mob, and at first these groups are completely disordered.

The little duck that could: Study finds endangered Hawaiian duck endures

Date: November 18, 2019
Source: Colorado State University

The endangered Hawaiian duck, or koloa, the only endemic duck remaining on the main Hawaiian Islands, is threatened with genetic extinction due to interbreeding with feral mallards. This has led to the creation of hybrid forms of the koloa. But new research has found that the genetic diversity of the koloa is high, and conservation efforts on the island of Kauai have been successful.

Caitlin Wells, a research scientist at Colorado State University, conducted the research as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Davis. This study is the culmination of two decades of research spearheaded by scientists from University of California, Davis; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; University of Texas, El Paso; Wright State University; Oregon State University; and the state of Hawaii's Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

The results from the study offer hope for existing conservation efforts with the koloa and other endangered birds around the world.

"Persistence of an endangered native duck, feral mallards, and multiple hybrid swarms across the main Hawaiian Islands," will be published Nov. 18 in Molecular Ecology, and Wells is the lead author.

A charismatic duck, located primarily on Kauai

Wells described the koloa as a "petite, buffy brown and charismatic duck," similar to a female mallard.

"The fact that the koloa on Kauai are pure and have a lot of genetic variation are two really positive things that came out of this study," said Wells.

Ostrich eggshell beads reveal 10,000 years of cultural interaction across Africa

Date: November 27, 2019
Source: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Ostrich eggshell beads are some of the oldest ornaments made by humankind, and they can be found dating back at least 50,000 years in Africa. Previous research in southern Africa has shown that the beads increase in size about 2,000 years ago, when herding populations first enter the region. In the current study, researchers Jennifer Miller and Elizabeth Sawchuk investigate this idea using increased data and evaluate the hypothesis in a new region where it has never before been tested.

Review of old ideas, analysis of old collections

To conduct their study, the researchers recorded the diameters of 1,200 ostrich eggshell beads unearthed from 30 sites in Africa dating to the last 10,000 years. Many of these bead measurements were taken from decades-old unstudied collections, and so are being reported here for the first time. This new data increases the published bead diameter measurements from less than 100 to over 1,000, and reveals new trends that oppose longstanding beliefs.

The ostrich eggshell beads reflect different responses to the introduction of herding between eastern and southern Africa. In southern Africa, new bead styles appear alongside signs of herding, but do not replace the existing forager bead traditions. On the other hand, beads from the eastern Africa sites showed no change in style with the introduction of herding. Although eastern African bead sizes are consistently larger than those from southern Africa, the larger southern African herder beads fall within the eastern African forager size range, hinting at contact between these regions as herding spread. "These beads are symbols that were made by hunter-gatherers from both regions for more than 40,000 years," says lead author Jennifer Miller, "so changes -- or lack thereof -- in these symbols tells us how these communities responded to cultural contact and economic change."

Puffins stay cool thanks to their large beak

NOVEMBER 27, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Tufted puffins regulate their body temperature thanks to their large bills, an evolutionary trait that might explain their capacity to fly for long periods in search for food.

In a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers from McGill University and the University of California, Davis, used thermal imaging cameras to measure heat dissipation off the bodies and beaks of wild tufted puffins in the minutes after flying.

Their data showed that within 30 minutes of landing, the temperature of the puffin beaks dropped by 5°C (25°C - 20°C), while the heat radiating from their backs hardly changed. The beak "accounted for 10-18% of total heat exchange despite making up only 6%" of the bird's total surface area.

Big bills help cool birds as they fly

But why would puffins have evolved such a large bill? Kyle Elliott, a professor in McGill's Department of Natural Resource Sciences, thinks it could have to do with the energy they use when they fly.

Energetically speaking, flying is very taxing to birds. During flight, the thick-billed murre—which is closely related to the puffin—has an energy expenditure 31 times greater than when resting, the largest ever measured in vertebrates. This produces significant amounts of heat, says Elliott, the study's senior author, suggesting that some birds evolved a large bill to help them cool down when they fly.

Thursday 28 November 2019

Nidderdale dog walkers warned over banned bait poison

Dog walkers and countryside users are being warned about a dangerous banned poison being used in bait to target birds of prey in North Yorkshire.

A red kite was found dead close to Pateley Bridge in March and tests have shown traces of Bendiocarb and the banned poison Isofenphos.

North Yorkshire Police are warning anyone who may find a carcass of a bird or rabbit not to go near it.

The county had the highest number of offences against birds of prey in 2018.

Officers said the kite was found close to a caravan site near the Nidderdale town and submitted to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme.

Analysis of the bird showed the two pesticides were present and concluded these were responsible for the death as it was otherwise fit and healthy and had died soon after eating a large meal.

North Yorkshire Police said: "Bendiocarb is licensed for use as a pesticide in England, but Isofenphos is banned in the UK.

"Both pesticides are highly toxic and their use has previously been identified as the likely cause of death of other red kites in North Yorkshire.

"Despite extensive investigations, police have not been able to find evidence to understand how the pesticides reached the red kite or to identify those responsible for misusing these toxic substances."

In August the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' (RSPB) annual report said birds of prey were being subjected to "relentless persecution".

The highest number of recorded offences, 15, took place in North Yorkshire.

Police have urged dog walkers to be vigilant and not let pets "eat or investigate any animal carcasses they might come across when out walking".

"If you find any evidence of bait like this or a poisoned animal, then do not touch it. Many chemicals are extremely toxic and can be absorbed through skin," the force added.

Researchers show how feathers propel birds through air and history

NOVEMBER 27, 2019

Birds of a feather may flock together, but the feathers of birds differ altogether.

New research from an international team led by USC scientists set out to learn how feathers developed and helped birds spread across the world. Flight feathers, in particular, are masterpieces of propulsion and adaptation, helping penguins swim, eagles soar and hummingbirds hover.

Despite such diversity, the feather shares a common core design: a one-style-fits-all model with option trims for specialized performance. This simplicity and flexibility found in nature holds promise for engineers looking for better ways to build drones, wind turbines, medical implants and other advanced materials.

Those findings, published today in Cell, offer an in-depth look at the form and function of a feather based on a comparative analysis of their physical structure, cellular composition and evolution. The study compares feathers of 21 bird species from around the world.

"We've always wondered how birds can fly in so many different ways, and we found the difference in flight styles is largely due to the characteristics of their flight feathers," said Cheng-Ming Chuong, the study's lead author and a developmental biologist in the Department of Pathology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. "We want to learn how flight feathers are made so we can better understand nature and learn how biological architecture principles can benefit modern technology."

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the flight feather, Chuong formed a multi-disciplinary international team with Wen Tau Juan, a biophysicist at the Integrative Stem Cell Center, China Medical University in Taiwan. The work involved experts in stem cells, molecular biology, anatomy, physics, bio-imaging, engineering, materials science, bioinformatics and animal science. The bird species studied include ostrich, sparrow, eagle, chickens, ducks, swallow, owl, penguin, peacock, heron and hummingbird, among others.

Did human hunting activities alone drive great auks' extinction?

NOVEMBER 26, 2019

by eLife

New insight on the extinction history of a flightless seabird that vanished from the shores of the North Atlantic during the 19th century has been published today in eLife.

The findings suggest that intense hunting by humans could have caused the rapid extinction of the great auk, showing how even species that exist in large and widespread populations can be vulnerable to exploitation.

Great auks were large, flightless diving birds thought to have existed in the millions. They were distributed around the North Atlantic, with breeding colonies along the east coast of North America and especially on the islands off Newfoundland. They could also be found on islands off the coasts of Iceland and Scotland, as well as throughout Scandinavia.

But these birds had a long history of being hunted by humans. They were poached for their meat and eggs during prehistoric times, and this activity was further intensified in 1500 AD by European seamen visiting the fishing grounds of Newfoundland. Their feathers later became highly sought after in the 1700s, contributing further to their demise.

"Despite the well-documented history of exploitation since the 16th century, it is unclear whether hunting alone could have been responsible for the species' extinction, or whether the birds were already in decline due to natural environmental changes," says lead author Jessica Thomas, who completed the work as part of her Ph.D. studies at Bangor University, UK, and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Swansea University, Wales, UK.

The eagles have landed: Singapore shows off rare Philippine raptors

NOVEMBER 27, 2019

A male Philippine eagle named Geothermica is one of a pair being cared for in Singapore, part of a breeding programme to reverse the dwindling numbers of the feathered giants

Singapore showed off two critically-endangered eagles Wednesday that were loaned from the Philippines as part of a breeding programme to reverse the dwindling numbers of the feathered giants.

Destruction of tropical rainforest and relentless hunting have decimated the population of the Philippine Eagle—one of the world's biggest and most powerful birds whose wingspan can reach 2 metres (7 feet)—with only around 800 believed left in the wild, conservationists say.

The birds, Geothermica and Sambisig, are the first breeding pair ever to be sent outside the Philippines and arrived in Singapore in June on a 10-year loan from Manila.

The creatures are being cared for at the city-state's main aviary and were shown to the media Wednesday, as part of events marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between the countries.

"Any future offspring of the eagles will be returned to the Philippines to contribute to the sustainability of the species' population," said Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs the aviary.

The scheme has echoes of China's "panda diplomacy", which sees the Asian giant send the black and white bears to countries as gifts.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Calls for man who killed 420 wedge-tailed eagles to face charges under wildlife act

Scale of killings so great that long-term-impact on eagle population is unknown, conservation groups say

Thu 21 Nov 2019 17.00 GMTLast modified on Thu 21 Nov 2019 17.02 GMT

Conservation groups have called for a Victorian landowner to face charges under the Wildlife Act, after he admitted to his part in killing 420 wedge-tailed eagles over an 18-month period in the Bairnsdale magistrates court last week.

John Auer pleaded guilty to charges brought by the state Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions of misusing agricultural chemicals. He was fined $25,000 and received a 12-month good behaviour bond. He was also given a 12-month community corrections order.

Auer and former farmhand Murray Silvester, a New Zealand national, used the insecticide Lannate and other chemicals to poison the eagles at Tubbut in the Snowy Mountains between October 2016 and April 2018.

Silvester was sentenced to two weeks jail, fined $2,500 and deported last year. The penalty was criticised for its leniency at the time, despite the fact that it was the first custodial sentence ever handed down for destroying protected wildlife in Victoria.

Emails and text messages presented in evidence showed that Silvester was acting under the instruction of Auer. The Age reported that magistrate Simon Barnett described his offending as “calculated, unacceptable and disgraceful behaviour”.

From Alaska to Australia, anxious observers fear mass shearwater deaths

Migratory short-tailed shearwaters are Australia’s most numerous seabird, but washed-up carcasses, late arrivals and low numbers have conservationists worried

Sat 23 Nov 2019 19.00 GMTLast modified on Sat 23 Nov 2019 23.24 GMT

The carcasses began to arrive in July.

Residents around the Bristol Bay area of Alaska found thousands of dead short-tailed shearwaters washing up on remote beaches, and sent samples to Anchorage.

“We collected about 100 birds for testing and they didn’t test positive for any diseases or toxins,” says Dr Kathy Kuletz of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They were severely emaciated. The birds had starved.”

Two months later, observers in Australia began to register similar concerns. Every year the shearwaters – also known as mutton birds – make a remarkable 15,000km migration from the northern hemisphere to breeding sites in the Bass Strait and the south-east of the continent.

But this year they have arrived late, and in lower numbers than usual, leading at least one watcher in Victoria to warn that Australia’s most common seabird could suddenly become one of its rarest if numbers plummet drastically this year.

“I’m very, very concerned,” says Peter Barrand, the president of Birdlife Warrnambool.
Patchy and late return

The arrival of shearwaters at places such as Griffiths Island and Phillip Island in Victoria is well known not only for its scale, but also its precision timing.

First evidence of the impact of climate change on Arctic Terns

NOVEMBER 19, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Data collected from electronic tags retrieved from 47 journeys made by the Farne Island Arctic Terns, has revealed for the first time how climate change might affect their behaviour.

Arctic Terns spend their breeding and non-breeding seasons in polar environments at opposite ends of the world and are our longest-migrating seabird.

Spending their non-breeding season in the Antarctic, the remoteness of this part of the world means that until now we have had a very limited understanding of their behaviour and distribution while they are there.

Analysing the data from 47 migrations over two study years, 2015 and 2017, the team found:
Arctic Terns live on the Antarctic ice for one third of their annual lifecycle.

Analysis of their feathers shows their main food source is krill or similar crustaceans.

There were marked differences in the bird's behaviour and distribution between those tagged in 2015 compared with those tagged in 2017. This coincided with a substantial change in ice conditions, with high ice cover in 2015 followed by unusually warm conditions which led to the break-up of the ice in late 2016 and lower ice cover than normal throughout the following year.

Dr. Chris Redfern, of Newcastle University, UK, who has led the study explained:

"Sea ice is an important habitat for juvenile krill as it provides protection from predators and from the intense light of the Antarctic summer.

"We now know that krill are the main food source for the Terns so it seems likely the warmer weather during 2016/2017 led to reduced krill abundance and so the birds were forced to forage in different areas.

"And in fact, in that second year, the birds converged on the Shackleton Ice Shelf rather than being spread out along the East Antarctica coastline.

Monday 25 November 2019

A decade after the predators have gone, Galapagos Island finches are still being spooked

Date: November 20, 2019
Source: University of Cambridge

On some of the Galapagos Islands where human-introduced predators of Darwin's finches were eradicated over a decade ago, the finches are still acting as though they are in danger, according to research published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

The study found that the finches' fearful responses -- known as antipredator behaviour -- were sustained through multiple generations after the threat was gone, which could have detrimental consequences for their survival.

The work by Dr Kiyoko Gotanda, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge, is one of the first studies to look at behavioural adaptations in a species following the eradication of invasive predators. The research focused on one species of Darwin's iconic finches -- the small ground finch, Geospiza fuliginosa. Given their estimated life span, today's finches are not likely to be the same birds that had originally developed the response to defend themselves from predators.

"These surprising results suggest that whatever influences this fearful behaviour is more complicated than just the presence or absence of invasive predators," said Gotanda, sole author of the paper.

The Galapagos Islands provide a natural stage to compare different predator situations. Some islands have never had invasive predators, others currently have predators like domestic cats and rats that arrived with humans, while others have had these predators in the past and they have now been eradicated.

Dog and sheep bones help injured pigeons fly again

Date: November 20, 2019
Source: Cell Press

Sheep and dog bones can be whittled into orthopedic pins that stabilize pigeons' fractured wings, helping the fractures to heal properly without follow-up surgery. Researchers describe the treatment, which is cheaper and more efficient than using metal pins for pigeon rehabilitative surgeries, November 20th in the journal Heliyon.

"There is no need for the implants to be removed because they will ultimately be absorbed by the body," says first author Saifullah Dehghani Nazhvani, of the Shiraz University School of Veterinary Medicine's department of surgery in Iran. "Therefore, the implants can be used for wild birds, such as eagles, owls, and seagulls."

Nazhvani works at a veterinary clinic at Shiraz University, where they frequently see wild and companion birds suffering from fractures in their wings or legs. They typically use metal pins, which is standard for these types of procedures, but they noticed imbalance in the flight, take off, or landings after fracture repair. Therefore, they wanted a technique to use lightweight pins that they did not need to remove.

Nazhvani's team thought bones could be the answer. They sanded and processed sheep and dog bones, obtained from animals that had previously died, into pins small enough to be inserted into a pigeon's humeral bones -- the wing bone closest to a bird's body. After 32 weeks of observation, pigeons with sheep or dog bone orthopedic pins were able to fly as well as before the operation.

Ancient Egyptians gathered birds from the wild for sacrifice and mummification

DNA study rejects the idea that Egyptians domesticated sacred ibis for ritual use

Date: November 13, 2019
Source: PLOS

In ancient Egypt, Sacred Ibises were collected from their natural habitats to be ritually sacrificed, according to a study released November 13, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Sally Wasef of Griffith University, Australia and colleagues.

Egyptian catacombs are famously filled with the mummified bodies of Sacred Ibises. Between around 664BC and 250AD, it was common practice for the birds to be sacrificed, or much more rarely worshipped in ritual service to the god Thoth, and subsequently mummified. In ancient sites across Egypt, these mummified birds are stacked floor to ceiling along kilometers of catacombs, totaling many millions of birds. But how the Egyptians got access to so many birds has been a mystery; some ancient texts indicate that long-term farming and domestication may have been employed.

In this study, Wasef and colleagues collected DNA from 40 mummified Sacred Ibis specimens from six Egyptian catacombs dating to around 2500 years ago and 26 modern specimens from across Africa. 14 of the mummies and all of the modern specimens yielded complete mitochondrial genome sequences. These data allowed the researchers to compare genetic diversity between wild populations and the sacrificed collections.

Monday 18 November 2019

Drone-mounted detection system makes bird counting fast

FlaminGO! counts pink flamingos in Yucatán peninsula conservation program

Published on Monday, October 28, 2019

A Mexican startup is using drones to aid conservation of the pink flamingo on the Yucatán peninsula.

Ornitronik, a company founded by National Autonomous University biology graduate Esaú Villareal, has developed an automatic observation and detection system that uses drones to count flamingos and monitor their behavior.

Called FlaminGO!, the system can capture a single image of as many as 1,000 flamingos in 30 seconds. The automatic census of the flamingo population saves time and drones can count birds in areas that are difficult to reach.

Data and images that the system collects are passed on to public and private organizations that can use the information to develop better conservation plans for the pink flamingo, which is classified as an endangered species.

DJI, the company that makes the drones used in the Ornitronik system, said in a statement that FlaminGO! helps to understand the behavior of flamingos, adding that the size of their population is indicative of the health of the ecosystem in which they live.

White-bellied Heron spotted in Thimphu

October 30, 2019 

Choki Wangmo

To the pleasant surprise of birders and residents, a lone juvenile White-bellied Heron (WBH) was spotted for the first time in Thimphu yesterday.

The critically endangered species was spotted near the Babesa sewerage pond. It was found feeding on a small patch of land near the Thimchhu.

A bird enthusiast, Sherab Gyeltshen first saw the heron but could not confirm its identity. Later, few experts confirmed it as the White-bellied Heron.

Bird experts are determining why a WBH was in Thimphu, considering the elevation range within which the species forage.

Senior research officer with Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Sonam Tshering said that habitat disturbance in lower areas could have caused the bird to move in the lesser disturbed areas. “WBH is mostly found at an elevation range of 500-1,500 metres above sea level, but Thimphu fall within 2,000 metres, which make the spotting almost near to impossible. But we cannot conclude anything,” he said.

Bird life makes remarkable comeback in Peak District landscape once scarred by pollution

Thursday 31 October 2019

Endangered bird species are faring far better in England’s original National Park than worrying national trends otherwise suggest.

Bleak findings of the latest State of Nature report found that 43 per cent of all bird species in the UK are under threat.

That concerning statistic is part of a wider trend outlined by the report’s contributing consortium of leading conservation groups who suggested that the abundance and distribution of UK wildlife species has, on average, declined since 1970.

However, new research provides fresh hope in the Peak District National Park where the numbers of 21 species - most notably golden plover, snipe and lapwing - have increased over the last 28 years.

Numbers of curlew, which suffered a 48 per cent decline nationally between 1995 and 2017, rose by a huge 252 per cent between 1990 and 2018 in the Peak District.

Buzzard populations are also thought to be booming. Sightings rose from just one in 1990 to 239 last year.

Similarly, 157 ravens were recorded compared to zero at either end of the same period.

The survey involved a 500 sq km patch of the Peak District, an area of the equivalent size of about 70,000 football pitches in the South Pennine Moors Special Protection Area.

New Five women who founded the RSPB

26 Jul 2018

In our Autumn issue of Nature's Home magazine (out now!) we tell the story of Etta Lemon, 19th-century co-founder of the RSPB, as told by author Tessa Boase. 

Back in the late 19th Century, the threat to wild birds came not from climate change but from milliners, who fuelled a demand for feathers that saw birds killed in their hundreds of thousands – purely to decorate the hats and accessories of fashionable ladies. Both plumes and whole, taxidermied birds from across the world were de rigeur. 

But not all of Britain’s ladies were prepared to turn a blind eye. Appalled by the slaughter and alarmed by plummeting numbers, these women galvanised a movement to save the birds. When their individual campaigns finally came together, the RSPB was born.

Below, Tessa Boase introduces five women who built the RSPB. 

Hair-raising truth behind pigeons' lost toes

NOVEMBER 13, 2019

Pigeons are often viewed as vermin but could play a role in understanding urban wildlife

Next time you visit your hairdresser spare a thought for the pigeons.

For a long time scientists thought the fact that pigeons in urban environments often lost their toes was due to some form of infection, or was a reaction to chemical pollutants.

But now researchers in France believe they've stumbled upon the real culprit: human hair.

The team from the National Museum of Natural History and the University of Lyon recorded the occurrence and extent of toe mutilations from pigeons eking out their time in 46 sites across Paris.

The found that human pollution likely played a part in nearly all cases of missing toes—pigeons living in areas with higher rates of air and noise pollution tended to have fewer digits than those that lived in leafier environs.

Perhaps most strikingly, the team noticed that toe mutilation "tended to increase with the density of hairdressers"—meaning the poor birds often lose their extremities by getting them entangled in human hair.

The team suggested that more green spaces might benefit the population of birds seen by many city-dwellers as pests.

But they do in fact serve a worthy purpose for science.

"Measuring the impacts of urban pollution on biodiversity is important to identify potential adaptations and mitigations needed for preserving wildlife even in city centres," the team wrote.

The study was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

Scientists find two identical-looking bird species have very different genes

NOVEMBER 13, 2019

While reports of species going extinct are sadly becoming common, an international team of scientists has identified a new species of bird living on the Southern coast of China, that diverged from their Northern relatives around half a million years ago.

New research by the Milner Centre for Evolution academics in collaboration with Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou (China) shows that Southern and Northern breeding populations of plovers in China are in fact two distinct species: Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) in the North and white-faced plover (Charadrius dealbatus) in the South.

Using state-of-the-art genomics analysis, the team revealed that the Kentish plover and white-faced plover diverged approximately half a million years ago due to cycling sea level changes between the Eastern and Southern China Sea causing intermittent isolation of the two regional populations.

The results show that despite looking very similar, the two plover species have high levels of genetic divergence on their sex chromosomes, (Z chromosome) than on other chromosomes, indicating that sexual selection might play a role to in the evolution of the two species.

Dr. Yang Liu, a visiting scholar from Sun Yat-sen University at the Milner Centre for Evolution, led the work. He said: "The initial divergence of the two plovers was probably triggered by the geographical isolation.

"However, other factors, such as ecological specializations, behavioral divergence, and sexual selection could also contribute to the speciation of the two species.

Thursday 14 November 2019

How Graffiti On Bus Shelters Actually Saves Lives

Fri 25 Oct 2019 5.53 AM

Graffiti tags and other forms of vandalism at bus stops are oddly helping to save the lives of billions of birds.

Polish researchers have studied more than 80 different bus shelters across the country.

After carrying out almost 2,500 inspections every ten days, Poland's Academy of Science has concluded that birds are far less likely to collide with, and die, if the bus shelter has graffiti, dirt or artwork on it.

"Billions of birds die every year after hitting glass structures and our results suggest that collisions with glass bus shelters may be an important source of bird mortality," the authors said.

Puffins make poor diet choices when the chips are down

NOVEMBER 4, 2019

A new study has shown that Britain's puffins may struggle to adapt to changes in their North Sea feeding grounds and researchers are calling for better use of marine protection areas (MPAs) to help protect the country's best known seabirds. Britain's coasts support globally important populations of many species of seabird, but they face many challenges as their established habitats change.

Scientists at the University of Southampton and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology studied the diet and distribution of Atlantic puffins and razorbills on the Isle of May National Nature Reserve, off the coast of southeast Scotland.

They studied the seabirds' over-winter feeding habits and found that during the 2014 to 2015 winter, when conditions were good, both species foraged close to their breeding colony eating a diet consisting mostly of lipid-rich fish such as sandeels. However in the 2007 to 2008 winter, conditions were not as good and the small fish populations were mainly concentrated further out in the southern North Sea. Whilst the razorbills flew farther away from the breeding colony in order to maintain their healthy diet, the puffins stayed closer in, eating a poorer quality diet of crustacea, polychaete worms and snake pipefish. The researchers found that fewer birds survived to return to the colony in the spring of 2008 compared to 2015, with puffins being more severely affected than razorbills.

Australia has all the tools to protect its birds from extinction – but it is failing

If ever there were a country in a position to invest in protecting its precious wildlife, it was Australia. Yet the survival of dozens of species is at stake

Mon 4 Nov 2019 17.00 GMTLast modified on Tue 5 Nov 2019 02.45 GMT

The last time Australia experienced a quarter of national negative economic growth, the Soviet Union still existed, Nirvana were on the cusp of releasing Nevermind, and the first serious attempt to analyse and catalogue our threatened birds – The Action Plan for Australian Birds – was about to be published.

In the 28 years since, the lucky country has recorded the longest period of continual economic growth of any modern nation. Whether this was due to 1991 being “the recession we had to have”, the fundamentals of a strong, modern economy having been put in place, or the sheer dumb luck of being a beneficiary of the China boom, if ever there were a country in a prime position to be able to invest in protecting its precious wildlife, it was us.

So how has that worked out?

Not so well. Each decade since, lead author Prof Stephen Garnett has produced a further action plan for Australian birds. By the time of the 2010 action plan, the conservation status of 49 species of Australian bird had deteriorated since 1990. That is, they had been recognised as taking the next step towards extinction.

Garnett was in Melbourne last month , consulting with threatened-species experts in final preparations for the 2020 action plan. Final population estimates and other data are still being thrashed out; the early indications are not so promising for a turnaround in fortune for the majority of our threatened species. In fact, a 2018 report by the National Threatened Species Hub, with which Garnett collaborates, indicated that some of the birds in this year’s Bird of the Year poll, such as the regent honeyeater and the orange-bellied parrot, may not exist in the wild if the vote were to be run in 20 years’ time.

Songbirds sing species-specific songs

NOVEMBER 12, 2019

The generation of species-specific singing in songbirds is associated with species-specific patterns of gene activity in brain regions called song nuclei, according to a study published November 12 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Kazuhiro Wada of Hokkaido University in Japan, and colleagues. According to the authors, the findings could be a promising step toward a better understanding of the contribution of multiple genes to the evolution of behaviors.

Learning of most complex motor skills, such as birdsong and human speech, is constrained in a manner that is characteristic of each species, but the mechanisms underlying species-specific learned behaviors remain poorly understood. Songbirds acquire species-specific songs through learning, which is also thought to depend on species-specific patterns of gene activity in song nuclei—brain regions known to be specialized for vocal learning and production.

In the new study, Wada and colleagues made use of two closely related songbird species—the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) and the owl finch (Taeniopygia bichenovii)—and also the hybrid offspring of matings between these two species. This allowed them to examine the relationship between inter-species differences in gene expression and the production of species-specific song patterns.

Sunday 10 November 2019

The largest seabirds in the North Atlantic travel hundreds of miles just to catch food

NOVEMBER 1, 2019

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Gannets, the largest seabirds in the North Atlantic, can travel hundreds of miles from their homes just to catch food for their chicks. However, with around a million square miles of ocean to choose from, it has always been a mystery how they decide where is best to search for fish.

Now, new research led by the University of Glasgow and published today in the Journal of Avian Biology, offers new insights into why these iconic shaped seabirds choose to hunt the way they do.

Scientists recorded thousands of gannets commuting to and from the Bass Rock, in the outer part of the Firth of Forth in Eastern Scotland. The Bass Rock houses the world's largest northern gannet colony, with an estimated 75,300 breeding pairs calling it home.

They found that traveling as part of a flock appeared to be about more than just gaining aerodynamic benefits. The researchers were able to show that the more experienced adult birds were often found at the front of commuting flocks, with younger birds following behind. The results add weight to the theory that gannets learn to hunt by following their elders.

Dr. Ewan Wakefield from the University of Glasgow's Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, said: "Our research offers a more detailed insight into how and why gannets search for food in the way they do. With such a large expanse of ocean to choose from it has always been a mystery as to how they know where fish are most likely to be found.

Fowl language: Amazonian bird's mating call noisiest in world

White bellbird’s call reaches same volume as pneumatic drill during courtship ritual

A bird in the Amazon has shattered the record for the loudest call to be recorded, reaching the same volume as a pneumatic drill.

The white bellbird, which lives in the mountains of the north-eastern Amazon, was recorded at 125 decibels (dB), three times louder than the next bird in the pecking order, the screaming piha.

Mario Cohn-Haft, an ornithologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research and the author of a paper published in the journal Current Biology, captured a male white bellbird specimen in the Brazilian state of Roraima in 2017.

It was about 30cm (12in) long from beak to tail, said Cohn-Haft. He dissected it in the field, removing the skin and some organs to prepare it to be added to his collection. Something caught his eye under the bird’s pure white feathers: a muscular, sculpted chest. “It had a six pack,” he said, with tissue five times thicker than that of most birds its size.

DoC concerned 'mega mast' could wipe out native bird populations in some areas


Native bird populations could be completely wiped out in some areas hit by this year's mega mast.

It's set to be the biggest seeding event in more than 40 years, but half-a-million hectares of forest will receive no 1080 predator control.

"There's a huge number of rats, and there will be a huge number of stoats in our forests this year," says Peter Morton, of the Department of Conservation (DoC). 

The threat to birdlife this summer is so much higher because climate change is making our native bush go through an explosion of seeding. That causes a chain reaction - the more seeds the more birds, the more birds the more rodents.

"We'll lose some of our most precious treasures in those forests," says Forest and Bird ecologist Rebecca Stirnemann.

One example is a whio nest Newshub saw. The eggs laid by a little blue duck were no match for a stoat, which stole three eggs of the endangered species in the space of 10 minutes.

With heavy seed fall expected, Fiordland all the way up to the East Cape will be hit the hardest. 

But areas like Nelson Lakes National Park, the Tararua Ranges and the Tongariro Forest won't get any DoC-funded predator control.

In those regions populations of whio, kokako and kiwi could be wiped from the map.

"In years without 1080 we lost 90 percent of all our kiwi chicks, they were just decapitated by stoats, killed," says Stirnemann.

By closely watching the forests DoC has been able to estimate that the number of predators will be near saturation point.So much so that they're expecting to see rodents in some tunnels 96 percent of the time.

The Department of Conservation believes around 1.4 million hectares of native forest is at risk of being swamped by predators this mega mast season, however, just 900,000 hectares will be covered by the current 1080 drop, leaving half-a-million hectares of native bush still at risk.

Vulture population shows tentative signs of recovery in Pakistan


KARACHI: Once a prime candidate for extinction, the population of vultures in Pakistan has shown tentative signs of recovery in the past five years, but nature’s “garbage disposal” is still facing looming threats on several fronts, experts said.

The population of several species of vulture started declining in the mid-1990s due to the ingestion of livestock carcasses containing residues of deadly cattle drugs.

Apart from drugs, food shortages, and an increase in tree felling, especially those with vulture nests, have all been important contributors in the declining number of vultures.

The critically endangered oriental white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus) have declined across most of their range by over 95% since the mid-1990s, according to a recent report published by the Pakistan chapter of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Friday 8 November 2019

Sydney airport worker gouged in eye by falcon living in Qantas hangar

Exclusive: union says cleaners should not have to work in area where falcons have nested for at least 20 years

An aircraft worker has been gouged in the eye by a falcon that lives in a Qantas Sydney airport hangar, creating what the union has called an “unsafe work environment”.

Multiple peregrine falcons – including at least one small family – live, nest and hunt in the hangar.

Falcons have been there for at least 20 years and have turned it into a “known roosting site”.

But on Tuesday last week, one of the falcons attacked a worker, causing significant damage to his eyes, neck and face. The worker “may lose sight in one eye”, the Transport Workers Union said.

The birds cannot be easily removed because they are a protected species, and Qantas has allowed them to stay because they keep mice, rats and pigeons away.

Guardian Australia has obtained an internal safety warning issued by Qantas that confirmed the attack and told staff to wear safety goggles until the end of breeding season in November.

Suffolk golf club sees 25% increase in bird species

Tania Longmire
October 29, 2019 20:14

Ufford Park Woodbridge Hotel, Golf and Spa in Suffolk has seen a nearly 25 per cent rise in bird species that live at the venue in just eight years, according to a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) survey.

The club is now home to 39 species and new residents include four mistle thrushes and a number of hawfinches.

Mistle thrushes have been scarcer in south east England because of drier summers in recent years, and sightings of hawfinches – the UK’s largest finch – are increasingly rare because their breeding areas are in decline.

Rare eagle sneaks into Iran and drains Siberian ornithologists’ funds by spamming costly text messages

25 Oct, 2019 08:13 / Updated 12 days ago

A Russian bird conservation group has discovered a sudden hole in their budget after one of the eagles they were tracking started bombarding them with hundreds of expensive text messages from Iran.

Roaming is one big headache when you travel a lot, and raptors can get burned by it just as easily as the bipeds that created mobile phones. Just ask the Russian Raptor Research and Conservation Network (RRRCN), an environmental group whose eagle tracking budget was surprisingly drained by one particularly sneaky bird of prey.

The network studies the migration routes of various birds, including the endangered steppe eagle. They do so by putting solar-powered GPS trackers on their subjects. The device records the coordinates of the birds and dumps the data via text messages through a regular mobile network when it’s available. The conservationists then check the routes against potential threats like high-voltage power lines or poison baits deployed for pest control and try to find ways to avoid them.

A cyclist suffered an anaphylactic reaction after being attacked by a magpie.

'It smashed me really hard': Cyclist suffers an anaphylactic reaction after magpie swooped and scratched her face while she was cycling
Mellissa Gregory was bike riding with partner when she was attacked by magpie 
She claims the bird swooped and drew blood from her face causing it to swell
She was rushed to hospital leaving doctors confused over anaphylactic reaction 

PUBLISHED: 14:37, 2 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:37, 2 November 2019

Mellissa Gregory was bike riding with her partner at Chelsea's Bicentennial Park in Melbourne's south when a magpie swooped and attacked her face three times.

She claims the bird drew blood from her face causing it to swell from an allergic reaction. 

'Out of nowhere I just get hit in the side of the face,' she told 7NEWS.

'Next thing I know there's just blood everywhere... It honestly smashed into me really hard.'

Ms Gregory was rushed to hospital and doctors were left confused over the anaphylactic reaction. 

Thursday 7 November 2019

Why Do Pigeons Bob Their Heads?

Are they really wagging their heads up and down? Look a little closer …

In 1978, a group of researchers in a laboratory at Queen's University in Canada clustered around a plexiglass box enclosing a treadmill … with a pigeon walking on it. The purpose behind this comical scene was to try and answer an age-old question: Why do pigeons bob their heads?

Head-bobbing is as much a feature of pigeons' identity as is their tendency to swarm us at the slightest suggestion that we might be harboring a snack. Bopping their heads as they stalk about pecking the ground for crumbs, these birds seem to be grooving to some secret beat, as if they're all attending a silent disco in the town square. 

But what's the real purpose behind this seemingly ridiculous motion?

The 1978 treadmill experiment gave us the first crucial insights into that question. And the study overturned one major assumption in the process: Pigeons aren't actually bobbing their heads. Instead, they're pushing them forward. 

When the researchers in that study reviewed slow-motion footage, they found that there were actually two main parts to a pigeon's head movement, which the scientists called a "thrust" and a "hold" phase. 

"In the 'thrust' phase, the head is pushed forward, relative to the body by about 5 centimeters [2 inches]," explained Michael Land, a biologist at Sussex University in the United Kingdom who has studied eye movements in animals and humans. "This is followed by a 'hold' phase, during which the head is kept still in space, which means that it moves backwards relative to the forward-moving body."

New Zealand's bird of the year: the most important election – aside from the real one

What started as innocuous good fun has evolved into a national obsession, complete with voter fraud, skulduggery and high passions

Tue 5 Nov 2019 11.12 GMTLast modified on Wed 6 Nov 2019 00.51 GMT

The data team picked up on them first – 310 “dubious” votes from an IP address in Australia, sending one trend line suddenly, suspiciously skyward above the others. Something funny was going on with the shag.

Of course, by then – the 13th year of the competition – organisers knew to expect dodgy dealings in New Zealand’s bird of the year poll.

If a nationwide vote to name a favourite native bird sounds like innocuous good fun – a creative means of celebrating unique, threatened fauna – you may be underestimating bird of the year. Coordinated by the Royal Forest & Bird Society, an environmental nongovernmental organisation, it is often described as the country’s most important election – second only to, you know, the actual elections. Since 2017, too, it has had the same validation as two other Kiwi creations, pavlova and Russell Crowe: Australia has tried to pass it off as its own.

From a total of 900 votes received (some by post) in the first vote in 2005, bird of the year has grown to about 28,000 in 2015 and more than 48,000 in 2018 – nearly double the number that just elected the mayor of Wellington.

For this year’s competition, voting has been changed to proportional representation, allowing five choices, owing to persistent feedback that it was “too hard for people to choose just one bird”, according to a Forest & Bird spokeswoman, Megan Hubscher. “We’re seeing some interesting campaign strategies starting to take shape around that as well – for example, the penguin species are grouping together to campaign for ‘five ticks to penguins’.”

Complex society discovered in the vulturine guineafowl

NOVEMBER 4, 2019

Multilevel societies have, until now, only been known to exist among large-brained mammals including humans, other primates, elephants, giraffes and dolphins. Now, scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and the University of Konstanz report the existence of a multilevel society in a small-brained bird, the vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum). The study, published in Current Biology, suggests that the birds can keep track of social associations with hundreds of other individuals—challenging the notion that large brains are a requirement for complex societies, and providing a clue as to how these societies evolved.

Multilevel societies occur when social units, such as pairs, of animals form groups that have stable membership, and these groups then associate preferentially with specific other groups. Because this requires the animals to keep track of individuals in both their own and other groups, the assumption has long been that multilevel societies should only exist in species with the intelligence to cope with this complexity. While many bird species live in groups, these are either open, lacking long-term stability, or highly territorial, lacking associations with other groups.

Vulturine guineafowl, however, present a striking exception: The researchers observed these birds, which are from an ancient lineage resembling dinosaurs, behaving highly cohesively without exhibiting the signature intergroup aggression that is common in other group-living birds. And they manage this despite having relatively small brains, even relative to other birds. "They seemed to have the right elements to form complex social structures, and yet nothing was known about them," says Danai Papageorgiou, lead author on the paper and a Ph.D. student at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior.