Birds in the News 173 -- Memorial Day Edition

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Who's shooting endangered condors?

The shooting of two rare California condors, like this one, set phones ringing at the offices of environmental groups.

Image: [larger view].

Birds in Science

Northern Mockingbirds tend to sing fancier tunes with changing climate, say researchers. The research team from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre (NESCent), the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and McGill University showed that species in more variable climes also sing complex tunes. "Survival and reproduction become more complicated when weather patterns are unpredictable because you don't know when food will be available or how long it will be around," said Carlos Botero, a postdoctoral researcher at NESCent in Durham, NC. And the consequences of picking a mediocre mate are magnified in harsher climes. "Complexity of song display -- how many song types a bird sings, how hard the songs are -- is a good predictor of the quality of the individual," he said. "Males that sing more complex songs tend to carry fewer parasites, and have offspring that are more likely to survive," he added.

Northern Mockingbirds may look pretty much alike to people, but they can tell us apart and are quick to react to folks they don't like. Birds rapidly learn to identify people who have previously threatened their nests and sounded alarms and even attacked those folks, while ignoring others nearby, researchers reported recently. "This shows a bird is much more perceptive of its environment than people had previously suspected," said Douglas Levey, a professor in the zoology department of the University of Florida. "We are a part of their environment and we are a concern to them," Levey said.

Birds and Aircraft

A Turkish Airlines (THYAO.IS) domestic flight was forced to make an emergency landing after a flock of birds hit its engines, the state-run Anatolian news agency said on Sunday. The airplane, which left the central Turkish city of Konya for Istanbul late on Saturday, returned safely to the Konya airport after the bird strike, Anatolian said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will made its entire bird strike database available last week. Portions of the database have been publicly available since the information was first collected in 1990, but the public will now be able to access all of the database's fields.

Whether birds that put flights in danger should be shot out of the sky to keep planes safe is at the heart of legislation now pending in Sacramento. While most major airports in California already have federal authority to shoot down birds that endanger an aircraft, state Fish and Game wardens can still go after someone who does. The state Senate just passed a proposal that fixes the gap so there is no question what airport personnel can do and no lingering threat of an arrest. The Audubon Society of California had originally opposed the bill. But, once it was amended to protect endangered species the group changed its stance to neutral. It still does not like the killing of wildlife, but like passenger Michelle Anderson, they understand the necessity.

People Hurting Birds

A worthless excuse for a human being is contesting the $275 fine he received for beating a rare gull that tried to eat his wife's ice cream in Laguna Beach, California on New Year's Eve. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman said recently in Orange County Register that Dragan Djuric of Wichita, Kansas, is appealing the agency's fine in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Police say Djuric beat a Heermann's gull with a stick, breaking its wing. The bird was later euthanized. The crime? The bird was one of a flock that was trying to eat his wife's ice cream cone after she dropped it on the ground. GrrlScientist comment: If I was the judge who had to listen to this violent cretin's appeal, I would not only make him pay the fine, but I would lock him up for several months as punishment for wasting my time and the taxpayers' money with his astonishingly selfish appeal and inexcusably violent behavior.

If you think that inexcusable violence towards birds is only found in men, think again: this Hawai'ian woman beat a bird to death with a baseball bat. Do you suppose these two criminals could give birth to a superior race of terrorists if they got together and started procreating?

In one of the more laughable stories I've read in awhile, a man who stuffed birds into his pants and tried to sneak them into Los Angeles recently plead not guilty to smuggling. Prosecutors say Sony Dong entered his plea Monday in U.S. District Court. Dong was arrested in March at Los Angeles International Airport after authorities found 14 birds he carried in custom-tailored leggings under his pants during a flight from Vietnam.

Bruce Robertson, a private detective, had little to go on. Two gunshot victims, one soon to be dead, both found in the Big Sur wilderness. The victims had brown eyes, ruddy faces and nine-foot wingspans. Ordinarily Mr. Robertson, of Los Angeles, hunts down philandering husbands and ferrets out insurance violators. But his skills are being tested in this latest mystery: the shootings of two endangered California condors. "It's a tough case," said Mr. Robertson, 58. "The shooter could be anywhere." Biologists have been coaxing condors back from the brink of extinction since the early 1980s, when just 22 birds remained. Since then, the California condor count has been steadily climbing. The current tally is 336, with more than half of those living in the wild in Arizona, Baja California, California and Utah, and the rest living in zoos and bird sanctuaries. Those in the wild wear numbered ID tags and radio transmitters for tracking.

A golden eagle was killed by a wind turbine blade at a southwest Washington State wind farm, a state biologist says. It is the first known eagle fatality caused by a Washington wind project. The 10-pound bird had a broken wing and two broken legs after the April 27 accident at Goodnoe Hills Wind Project southeast of Goldendale, said Travis Nelson, the state's lead biologist on wind power issues. "This is certainly not the outcome that anyone who was involved in planning and permitting this operation would have wanted, especially the project owner," Nelson said. "We have convened a small review group internally to discuss how we can avoid this in the future."

Birds Helping People

A number of birds exist mainly on a diet of insects, which can be a boon to gardeners. By including some of their favorite food plants, a source of water, and nesting sites, they can be enticed to spend more time in the garden. This piece discusses some of the more desirable avian allies.

People Helping Birds

A stork with a damaged beak has been given a new, artificial one thanks to experts at a bird hospital in Hungary. The stork damaged its beak in an accident and was taken to the Hortobagy Birds' Hospital, 180km (111 miles) east of the capital Budapest. The bird's lower beak was repaired in an operation and Tamas Kothay, a specialist in dental prostheses, built a new top beak out of synthetic resin. If the bird makes a full recovery it will be released back into the wild. GrrlScientist comment: What a fabulous career! I wish I could be part of something like this!

Two dozen Culver City, California students aimed to lay the foundation for a cactus wren stronghold by restoring the coastal sage scrub preferred by the bird, which builds its nests deep within the protective spines of cactus patches. After weeding a square acre of steep hillside at the Culver City park, they planted cholla and prickly pear cactus, elderberry and black walnut trees. "Cactus grows slowly, so my goal is long-term," said Fonda Williams, 17, who plans to enroll at UCLA next year. "I'm hoping that years from now, I'll visit Baldwin Hills and discover that a pair of cactus wrens are calling the cactus I planted home."

Avian Influenza and Other Zoonotics News

The first sign this year of West Nile virus in San Joaquin County turned up in a dead bird found in Tracy, California. Instances of the virus increase as the weather warms and the population of virus-carrying mosquitoes grows. Mosquitoes transmit the virus to humans and other animals. Recently, the San Joaquin County Mosquito and Vector Control District announced an American crow found in the Tracy area tested positive for the virus.

The director-general of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, has closed the agency's annual conference with a warning that nations must remain vigilant and be prepared for a possible swine influenza A-H1N1 virus pandemic. She intimated that she would not be rushed into raising the international pandemic alert level from phase five to phase six. WHO reports at least 11,000 cases, including 86 deaths from 42 countries.

Streaming Birds

On BirdNote, for the week of 24 May 2009. BirdNotes can be heard live seven mornings per week at 8:58-9:00am on NPR affiliated radio stations throughout Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia, Canada. All episodes are available in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs, so you can listen to them anytime, anywhere. Listener ideas and comments are welcomed. [Podcast and rss]. If you would like to $upport BirdNote, I encourage you to purchase one of their wonderful "birdy" items from their online BirdNote Store.

Chickens aren't just for farms anymore. That's right -- urban hens are hip. Across the country, city dwellers -- attracted by the idea of having fresh eggs, a new hobby or even unique pets -- are keeping flocks. Allison Adams, writer and avid organic gardener, has a flock of seven hens in the backyard of her home in Decatur, Ga., not far from Atlanta. A few years ago, Adams saw an article about raising chickens and then approached her neighbor with the idea. "I love fresh eggs. I love having fertilizer production right in the backyard, so I thought, 'Well, if it's legal, I should probably investigate it,' " Adams says. [streaming: 4:28] GrrlScientist comment: If I had a backyard instead of a fourth-floor fire escape, I would keep my own chickens!

An Australian Cassowary -- a large bird about the size of an ostrich -- that authorities say is dangerous, was on the loose in Utah County after a semi crashed into the fence of an exotic pet farm Thursday night. The bird was found in the back of a resident's shed hiding in a patch of weeds Friday evening at about 7:00 p.m. The bird was injured, but was recovered by animal control. The bird is now contained within a small fenced-in area. [streaming report 3:16].

Bird Publications News

Would you like an avian anatomy book -- free? If so, you can download one, two or all three books as PDFs. Note that each book must be uploaded to someone's computer at least once every 90 days, or the file will be automatically deleted by RapidShare, so please share this link with your friends. [NOTE: There might be a waiting period between downloads]

The Anatomical Atlas of Gallus by Mikio Yasuda is the English edition of the Japanese book published by the University of Tokyo in 2002. This download was scanned from a library book and has been reduced to 80% of its full size so two scanned pages will appear per standard computer screen [228 scanned pages (446 pages total), 46 MB; PDF link through RapidShare].

A Colour Atlas of Avian Anatomy by J. McLelland with a forward by Julian Baumel and published in English by Wolfe Publishing (Aylesbury, England) in 1990 [127 pages, 28 MB; PDF link through RapidShare]. This download consists of PDF sections that can be read in their entirety only if you page through the book page-by-page using the toolbar.

Julian Baumel's celebrated Handbook of Avian Anatomy: Nomina Anatomica Avium, 2nd Edition, published in 1993 by the Nuttal Ornithological Club. This book is the definitive avian anatomy book that scientific papers cite, compare and contrast their findings to, so even if you don't use this as your primary anatomy book, you will need this to publish your findings, and to properly understand other scientists' papers. [409 scanned pages (779 pages total), 49 MB; PDF link through RapidShare].

While you are at RapidShare, you can also pick up a free book about the Endemic Birds of Sri Lanka [PDF link through RapidShare].

Here's the latest edition of Ian Paulsen's Birdbooker Report for you to enjoy. While this report does list books for sale from a variety of genres, it got its start by listing newly published bird books, as its name implies.

Bird Identification Quizzes

If you are interested to participate in a daily online discussion of bird identification, please go to the Mystery Birds archive. It is updated daily, and you are given 48 hours to identify each bird before its identification and an analysis is published. You are also invited to check out the previous Mystery Birds to improve your birding skills, many of which have an accompanying analysis, written by master birder Rick Wright, for identifying that particular species.

Miscellaneous Bird News

It's been a while since Hilton Pond posted a contest to their Website, so they've designed a Mayflower Quiz. No, it's not a test about your knowledge of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock but of plants they found blooming in South Carolina or West Virginia during the first part of this month. To view our photo essay for 1-21 May 2009 -- and to see how many Mayflowers you can identify. As always, they include a tally of all birds banded or recaptured, and there were quite a few of both during the period. Of particular interest is a mug shot of a Prothonotary Warbler female in breeding plumage -- a species not previously reported as nesting in York County SC.

In conjunction with the 150th anniversary of America's First Zoo, animal lovers will flock to the new McNeil Avian Center as it opened last weekend. "We have a very proud legacy and an important, rich history," says zoo president and CEO Vik Dewan. "What the McNeil Center represents for us is our future." The zoo's newest addition is housed in a reinvigorated, environmentally friendly facility and boasts more than 100 different birds from all over the world, four interactive exhibits and a 4-D theater where guests can enjoy fun, educational programs. "We consciously see the zoo as a three-generation opportunity," says Dewan, who adds that the new attractions are just one of many reasons the Philadelphia Zoo is a great place to visit over the summer."

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The Fine Print: Thanks to TravelGirl, Bill, Ellen, Jeremy and Ron for sending story links. Thanks in advance to Ian Paulsen for catching my typos; as you probably know by now, I put a few typographical errors in these documents just so Ian can find them!


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People who hurt any animal should be punished for what they did. Birds especially because they are so fragile. How would the people who hurt animals like it if they were beaten by a larger animal for no reason. They wouldn't like it at all so you should treat nature as you want to be treated

GrrlScientist comment: What a fabulous career! I wish I could be part of something like this!

you realize, of course, you could ask the people involved if they need help. most EU countries give priority residence (and eventually citizenship) to folks with piled higher and deeper paperwork... :)

GrrlScientist comment: What a fabulous career! I wish I could be part of something like this!

you realize, of course, you could ask the people involved if they need help. most EU countries give priority residence (and eventually citizenship) to folks with piled higher and deeper paperwork... :)

The zoo might be a great place to visit for those ignorant of animals' needs, but it's a horror show for most of the 1,300 animals confined there, many of them in outdated, 1950's era enclosure. While the zoo is celebrating 150 years and its new corporate-sponsored Avian center, the two surviving elephants, Kallie and Bette, are languishing in an enclosure the zoo itself admitted is inadequate over four years ago. The most tragic part of all is that these two deserving elephants could have moved to a wonderful sanctuary, PAWS, in California that generously offered to give them a lifetime home over two years ago.

Shame on the Philly Zoo, and shame on Science for promoting such a dismal place.