I and my wonderful flock of bird pals found several interesting news stories this week that describe birds and their relationships with people. I found some RaptorCams to share and I have a special surprise for you; two readers gave me permission to post some of their photographs of a “backyard bird” that might interest you. If you find an interesting story about birds or have some pictures you would like to share, feel free to email them to me.
Birds in Science (Birds teaching humans):
Do birds see the world in the same way that people do? Apparently they do, at least when it comes to being deceived by camouflaged invertebrates, as a research group from the University of Bristol discovered recently. Using “artificial moths” pinned to trees and baited with a tasty insect, they found that the same disruptive color patterns that deceive humans were also most deceptive to birds, suggesting that birds’ and humans’ visual perceptions are similar. Their research was published in the 3 March issue of Nature, one of the top science journals in the world.
Have you ever looked carefully at a bird’s nest? Surprisingly, most scientists haven’t either, but Dr. Mike Hansell, a biologist from the University of Glasgow is changing all that. This long and very interesting article, Building Castles in the Air, discusses various aspects of birds’ nests; choice of materials, patterns of construction and different species’ nest styles along with the functional reason for these structural differences.
Birds Helping People:
Birds and other animals are being used in an unusual therapy program to help people deal with depression and illness as described in Animals are our Friends. Sometimes, birds change people’s lives, as happened to one felon mentioned in this story whose “therapy bird” taught him compassion and led him to become a student of ornithology after his release from prison.
A review of a popular documentary reveals “the behind the scenes story” of how the film, The Parrots of Telegraph Hill, was made and reveals how these feral parrots in SF changed several people’s lives while inspiring the same sort of widespread passion for them that rivals the affection felt for Pale Male and Lola in NYC.
People Helping Birds:
I can’t resist writing this teaser for this news story: What is the relationship between an endangered South American parrot, coevolution and the Catholic Church? (And, do you suppose that reading this story will be made illegal in Florida?) You have to read this story to find out the answer to most of these burning questions!
Recently, India finally outlawed the use of diclofenac, the veterinary anti-inflammatory drug that was causing the extinction of all vulture species in SouthEast Asia. In previous issues of Birds in the News, I have linked to stories that report initial efforts to set up a captive breeding program for those few individual vultures that still live, so I hope that the combination of captive breeding and removal of diclofenac from the environment will be sufficient to recover these ecologically invaluable birds.
If you are following news of the irruption of great grey owls and several other owl species into the northern parts of the United States (as linked in previous Birds in the News), then you are aware that some of these birds become injured and need veterinary care to recover. As is the case for humans, medical care for birds is not cheap, even when veterinarians and their assistants donate their time. Other materials and resources, such as food, supplies and other medical consumables to care for these birds, still cost money. If you wish to make a tax-deductable donation to help these magnificent birds, your donated money will be matched 1:1 by the Katherine B. Andersen Fund.
BirdCams (Bird watching while sipping wine and wearing jammies):
If you are like me, you are looking for fun and free things to do in the evenings and at night. If so, take a peek at this Valmont Owl Cam that features infrared images captured of a nesting pair of great horned owls, Bubo virginianus, in Boulder, Colorado. The camera sponsor, XCel Energy, also supports several other RaptorCams that are linked from this site, so please explore! For a more comprehensive listing of BirdCam URLs (and several MammalCams!) from around the United States and the United Kingdom, click here.
Speaking of nesting, the colony of severely endangered parrots, the kakapos, Strigops habroptilus, are expecting at least 4 chicks to hatch this year, just in time for spring. Unfortunately, I was unable to learn whether Tilly (linked from a previous issue of Birds in the News) also nested this year. Tilly is a female kakapo who recently regained her health and was sent to her island home after a long bout of medical care that saved her life.
Backyard Birds: (reader-donated photos)
Did you know that bird beaks grow continuously, just as human hair and fingernails do? Considering that, would you be surprised to discover a dead woodpecker with an overgrown beak under your bird feeders one morning, as pictured here? One reader thinks this is very interesting and kindly shared these pictures with all of us (click on the photographs to see a larger image in its own window).
Bird beaks are comprised of underlying bone that is covered with hard, smooth layers of keratin. Because the beak is a bird’s primary tool for obtaining food and for building nests, the outer keratin layers grow continuously throughout their lifetimes to replace wear from constant use. Keratin is a tough, fibrous protein that has many functions throughout the animal kingdom; besides comprising human skin, hair and fingernails, keratin also makes up horns of animals such as wild sheep and goats, the outer layers of turtle and tortoise shells and also baleen in whales, just to name a few. In birds, abnormal growth of the beak is caused by a variety of problems, including an infestation with Knemidocoptes mites and malnutrition, as seen in this individual, whose beak was just over 3 inches long.
Two readers who live in Michigan found this dead hairy woodpecker
, Picoides villosus, below their bird feeder several weeks ago. According to Jack Swartz, who gave me permission to share these pictures on my blog, “It [the bird] was in pretty sad shape since it could not preen and was infested with mites and it is possible that it had avian pox or some type of bacterial infection.” Debbie Swartz took these excellent pictures and also was temporarily infested with the bird’s mites in the process! They took the bird’s body to their local DNR office and it was then sent to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology in Ann Arbor, where it now resides.
Non-academic job applications: 1 (full-time neuroscience or biochemistry/chemical biology copy editor)