Archive for: July, 2005

IBWO Streaming Interview

Jul 30 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Female ivory-billed woodpecker at her nest entrance.
Jim Tanner, 1937

Living on Earth has a streaming interview with Jerome Jackson and Tim Gallagher that you might be interested to hear. The transcript is also present on this page. This interview is available in mp3 and RealAudio formats.

Here is a 1935 video of an ivory-billed woodpecker working on a tree trunk.

If you don't already think that ornithologists are nuts, look at this video from the 1935 expedition in northern Louisiana to find the IBWO.

Links courtesy of the Ivory-billed woodpecker conservation stamp print, where they also have other links that have appeared here previously.

3 responses so far

Petition for emergency listing for the Red Knot

Jul 29 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

I learned today that a coalition of environmental groups, including the New Jersey Audubon, the Defenders of Wildlife, and the National Audubon Society have begun proceedings to have the rufa subspecies of the red knot, Calidris canutus, protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As you know from reading previous issues of Birds in the News, red knot populations have declined globally in recent decades, and the rufa subspecies, which migrates along the east coast of the United States, has plummeted by as much as 60% since the late 1980s.

The rufa subspecies winters in Tierra del Fuego and other parts of South America, and migrates some 9,000 miles to its Arctic breeding grounds in Canada. Along the way, the birds concentrate in vast numbers at staging areas to refuel and rest, which makes them particularly vulnerable. Delaware Bay is the most important of these stop-off points, where the knots feed on the eggs of horseshoe crabs to sustain them on their long journey north.

Overharvesting of horseshoe crabs by fishermen for use as bait in conch and eel pots has been linked to these declines in red knots. This is alarming because the red knot has evolved a relatively long lifespan and a commensurately low reproductive rate. Thus, even if everything was set right today, it will take these birds a long time to recover their former numbers. Conservationists have noted that although the population still numbers in the tens of thousands, it is rapidly crashing and they predict that the red knot could become extinct in ten years if the current rate of decline continues.

ABC and National Audubon Society have led efforts to protect horseshoe crabs, and the knots and other shorebirds that rely on their eggs. These efforts appear to be paying off, as the 2004 take of crabs reached its lowest levels in more than a decade. In 2004, crab landings in Delaware Bay, a critical place for both crabs and shorebirds, fell by 53% from 2003 levels. Coastwide landings dropped to just 630,000 crabs. The US Fish and Wildlife Service will initiate a public comment period if they decide to proceed with the listing process.

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Image source: Wildlife Conservation Society: Red Knot Migration and Horseshoe Crab Conservation in the Delaware Bay.

2 responses so far

Birds in the News #20

Jul 29 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Photographer: Gene Oleynik, FermiLab

Birds in Science:

It was widely reported in the news that the space shuttle collided with a bird during its recent launch. These stories discuss how the astronauts are scanning the shuttle’s heat shield for potential damage using a new extension of the craft's robot arm.

Researchers report that club-winged manakins, Machaeropterus deliciosus, rub specialized feathers behind their backs to impress mates with a violin-like sound, researchers report. The manakins vibrate their wings at more than 100 cycles per second, twice the speed of hummingbirds. “Essentially an instrument has evolved in this species, in this case a refined instrument,” said Cornell University’s Kimberly Bostwick, the lead author. The findings are published in today's issue of the top-tier research journal Science.

These days, it seems, even the moral values of birds are subject to scrutiny. To investigate the spousal fidelity of eastern imperial eagles, Aquila heliaca heliaca, large raptors that are native to central Asia, a team of surreptitious scientists collected feathers the birds had shed near their nests in northern Kazakhstan. Extracting and analyzing DNA from the feathers confirmed that not a single eagle had strayed from its mate during the course of the six-year study - a degree of monogamy unusual among birds. In more than 75 percent of avian species looked at so far, researchers have discovered broods that have two or more fathers.

A rare bird-of-prey species, on the verge of becoming the focus of a last-ditch captive breeding program, doesn't exist, say researchers who studying the genes of the Cape Verde kite, Milvus fasciicauda. By comparing the mitochondrial DNA of five living Cape Verde kites with those of century-old museum specimens and related kites in Africa, Eurasia and Australia, researchers at the University of Michigan and the Peregrine Fund have discovered that the nearly extinct Cape Verde kite is really a couple of other common kites, depending on when you look. The results of the study by Mindell, and the Peregrine Fund's Jeff Johnson and Richard Watson, appear in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Last week, nearly 2,000 of the world's leading environmental scientists of various disciplines met in Brasilia to present papers at the 19th Annual Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology. The conference featured more than 750 oral presentations and 965 scientific abstracts. Listed on this link are a sampling of some of the bird conservation-related papers submitted for the conference. All descriptions are excepts from the official "Book of Abstracts" from the meeting.

People Hurting Birds:

Authorities are trying to figure out who took four endangered piping plovers, Charadrius melodus, from the sands of Duxbury Beach earlier this month. The alleged theft occurred on July 10 in this town 33 miles south of Boston. On that Sunday afternoon, shocked beachgoers reported seeing a woman and a teenager picking up piping plovers from a fenced-off area of the beach. Throughout the 19th century, piping plovers were hunted for their feathers, which were used to decorate hats. The species was nearly wiped out until federal protection laws were passed in 1918. Since then, piping plovers have slowly recovered. More recent news about piping plovers.

People Helping Birds:

The Humber Estuary has become one of the most successful breeding grounds for a rare British bird. More than 100 pairs of pied avocets, Recurvirostra avosetta (pictured), have nested on Reads Island this year, raising at least 120 chicks.

Well, who would have thought it, but there are bald eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, nesting within a couple blocks of where I myself nest in Manhattan! Apparently, four fledgling raptors are calling a platform above the Inwood Hill Park their home, as part of a city Parks Department project to reintroduce this iconic bird to New York. The article has a link to a live feed of the birds.

Following a 98% crash in numbers due to predation by feral housecats, the seabird population on Ascension Island is beginning to recover its numbers, mostly confined to those birds nesting on offshore stacks and inaccessible cliffs. After finally removing the last of the feral housecats from the islands in early 2004, the Ascension Seabird Restoration Project has released a special stamp commemorating the return of some of the endemic seabird species.

Two osprey chicks, Pandion haliaetus, were getting ready to fly for the first time at Glaslyn, in Northern Wales, UK. Experts ringed the fledglings at the same time when they weighed and measured them, determined to keep track of them.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News:

This is an interesting story about a woman who saw the ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, in the Cache NWR in Arkansas in April 2005 (just before the public announcement). Incidentally, she was not part of the Cornell Team nor was her sighting mentioned in either the Science article or Gallagher's book.

Southeastern wildlife officials plan to gather next month to decide how far to expand their search for the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker - and the path could lead to Georgia. The bird once lived across the Southeast, including the Altamaha and Savannah rivers and the Okefenokee Swamp. "It would be a long shot, but if we were going to find it, it would be in places like that," said Terry Johnson, manager of the nongame endangered wildlife program for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Birds in the Media:

The loquacious chat starts this week out on BirdNote, followed by peregrines, Falco peregrinus and shorebirds; the red crossbill, Loxia curvirostra; birds that are named for their call or song; and the gray jay, Perisoreus canadensis. Check out the schedule and see photographs
of the birds here. Also available as an RSS/PodCast Feed.

I have linked to this website before, but I am doing it again in case you missed it the first time. This website has collected a gazillion nesting bird cam links from around the planet for your viewing pleasure. They are categorized by species.

Bird Mysteries:

The mysterious deaths of at least 300 egrets in a Guangzhou forest park sparked fears that the bird flu was to blame, the South China Morning Post reported Monday. Residents in the area, who said they had discovered the birds in the past few days, estimated the death toll had reached 300. Some villagers blamed the heat, but others feared it was linked to the bird-flu virus and urged the government to investigate.

The recent sighting of a rare hummingbird has bird biologists in Texas almost giddy. A white-eared hummingbird, Hylocharis leucotis, spotted in Lubbock earlier this month was the first to be seen in the South Plains and Panhandle regions, according to the Llano Estacado Audubon Society. Eight other individuals have been seen in West Texas this year. Between 1972 and the end of last year, only 14 had been sighted in Texas. GrrlScientist wonders: Is this a range expansion for this species? If so, is this a precursor to range expansions by other tropical birds?

Birds Telling Off People:

I couldn't resist sharing this short but amusing story with you. In Britain, Barney the five-year-old blue-and-yellow macaw, Ara ararauna, can now be seen only on special request, like the British Library's collection of erotic books, in case he turns on potential donors or gives a dreadful example to visiting children. He was placed in solitary confinement after swearing repeatedly at distinguished visitors including a mayor, a vicar and two police officers.

Worthy of Another Mention:

I link to DigiMorph every so often because it is so excellent and I want to be sure that people are aware of its existence.

Thanks to my bird pals Ellen, Laura, Karl, Ron, and Fred for some of these links that you are enjoying.

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Academic Job Offer: 1 -- Adjunct Assistant Professor at a local university this autumn, teaching Evolution.

Non-academic Job Interview: 1 -- I got the job in a bookstore -- for $7.50 per hour. Now I can work full-time AND be homeless.

New Development: This morning, the acting department chair sent me email, asking if I wish to be appointed as a full-time Adjunct Assistant Professor at my little school on the hill. I don't know all the details because the department chair is presently on vacation and she is the one who can tell me more, but they say that my current teaching load will remain unchanged (I teach a lot, apparently). They say that I will be assigned a modest amount of non-teaching tasks, and -- best of all -- my wages will increase by approximately 40%! I need to find out how this will affect my research time and will I get benefits? etc. I am also going to purchase that laptop that I have had my eye on!

7 responses so far

HellKitty*

Jul 27 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Some of you might know that I am an evolutionary biologist who is currently unemployed. While I continue my two-year long job search, I have been trying to survive by working as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at a local college, a job that barely pays my rent, and as a freelance writer and an animal care provider, in an attempt to pay all my other bills. Most of my animal care clients are cats, although I do care for some dogs and, when I am lucky, even a few parrots.

This week, I am caring for a certain feline whom I will refer to here as HellKitty* while her human vacations in a remote region in China. As her pseudonym implies, this cat is the most miserable and hateful creature I've ever met. HellKitty is hugely overweight, can barely walk and apparently spends all of her time sleeping or eating. Because HellKitty was recovering from anesthesia the day when I first met her, I was blissfully unaware of the depth of her passions. It turns out that she had visited her veterinarian (whom she also despises) earlier that same day, and he had trimmed and filed her claws smooth and had shorn off all of her long, thick fur, exposing her 22 pounds of righteous outrage to the world.

She looked ridiculous and she knew it.

Initially, during our introductory pre-cat sitting meeting, HellKitty gave me a friendly and interested sniff but, quickly realizing her mistake, she immediately set about correcting it by hiding under the bed, growling and hissing ferociously. HellKitty's human slave, whom she apparently only tolerates, feigned confusion about her "uncharacteristic aggression", blaming the anesthesia. I was clearly too astonished by her behavior to correctly read the warning signs and back out of this job before it was too late.

Usually, feline personality disorders such as these are not a problem for cat sitting, except in those rare cases where the cat sitter is required to routinely violate the cat's personal boundaries. Unfortunately, HellKitty is a rare case because she suffers from diabetes mellitus and thus, must have insulin injections every 12 hours, or she will die. This of course means that the cat sitter (me) has to touch her twice per day. My mistake; HellKitty never gave me permission to touch her and there was nothing I could say or do to convince her otherwise. After working with HellKitty for four days, I have concluded that she is not especially bothered by the insulin injections as most people might suspect, but instead, she simply hates people and she especially hates to be touched by strangers.

When I was a very young kid, I was attacked by a cat as I took the garbage out. It was a warm summer evening, and I remember seeing a beautiful Siamese cat sitting on the back porch looking at me as I walked to the compost pile. I reached my open hand out towards the cat and suddenly, I found the cat hanging off my left arm by its claws, its teeth moving up and down my arm like a cartoon chicken pecking its way up and down an ear of corn. It seemed that I stood there for at least an hour in horrified fascination, watching this cat's teeth punching their way through my flesh like twin sewing machine needles and seeing red, red blood spurt in all directions. It was like watching a movie.

I heard the plastic bowl containing the garbage drop to the cool green grass with a soft plop as I reached out my right hand to slap the cat, startling it such that it went flying from my arm and ran into the alfalfa field a short distance away. Much of the rest of that day and the next is a blur, but I do remember sitting in a hospital room being questioned at great length by medical doctors, veterinarians and animal control officers about the cat. The Cat, The Cat, The Cat.

I remember telling them that it was all my fault, that I should not have tried to pet The Cat.

I also recall that the result of this discussion was that I almost was subjected to rabies vaccinations -- they were described to me as having a foot-long needle jabbed through your belly button and into your spine once per day for 30 days. I remember trying visualize in my mind's eye what a foot-long needle might have looked like, what it could have felt like as it poked through my guts and finally pierced my spinal cord. I realize now that this vision gave me nightmares for years afterwards. In view of this, it's odd that I am not afraid of cats (nor needles), that I am actually quite fond of cats (and I tolerate needles).

So here I am, a few decades later, trapped in a tiny Manhattan apartment, facing down a partially shaven cat who is screeching like a mountain lion while I hold a teeny-tiny needle in my hand. After I wrapped a thick towel around HellKitty's body and pinned her down so that I would not be bitten, I injected her in the scruff of the neck with the life-saving insulin. I then released her and jumped back as quickly as possible, watching her struggle free of the towel, screeching madly all the while.

As I left the apartment, I found myself sweating and shaking uncontrollably, feeling faint. Inexplicably, I could smell sweet green alfalfa ripening under the summer sun and I could hear the distant echo of a screeching cat as it methodically bit its way up and down a tanned child's arm, leaving scars that I carry to this day.

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* Not her real name, although it ought to be.

NOTE: the picture (above, top) is not HellKitty, it is an imposter. But it gives you an idea what HellKitty's haircut looks like.

This story was included with the 71st issue of The Carnival of Cats,
"Best of Cat Blogging".

17 responses so far

Blog Carnival Daily Double

Jul 27 2005 Published by under Uncategorized


The Tangled Bank

I was feeling uncharacteristically bold recently and submitted an essay I wrote to the latest Tangled Bank and also to the Education Carnival, wondering if either one would like it well enough to accept it. Amazingly (to me, anyway), both of them accepted it. Simply shocking, I know, since this essay is not a thoughtful analysis piece (you know, the sort of thing that I like to write when I have a few minutes to think about things and when I am not battling that potent malaise that grips my soul).

Anyway, to celebrate this public exposure, I did add a picture to the piece, a picture that hopefully adds a little er, "atmosphere".

5 responses so far

The Wizard's Apprentices' Last Day

Jul 26 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Today was my students' last day as Wizard's Apprentices. After today, they all will have finished their one required lab course (this was a basic "survey of biology and chemistry" course) and will return to complete their business, accounting or english degrees as they work their way towards their bright and shining futures as tomorrow's Masters of the Universe.

I spent 2 hours this morning preparing their lab practicum, which examined them over the anatomy of the fetal pig, Sus scrofa, that they have been intensively exploring during the second half of the semester. This exam consisted of 30 questions, one per "station", where a student's fetal pig dissection would be lying in a pan on its back, splay-legged, guts obvious to the world. A pin sporting a small, numbered piece of tape was stuck into a particular structure or organ that the students had to identify. Each student was given one minute to identify each item as they moved from station to station in unison (well, more or less). Later, the lecture professor, who acts as the lab sections supervisor, told me that he thought the exam was "beautifully done." I should take some pride in that, I suppose.

I, on the other hand, was somewhat disappointed by this exam because all the other instructors decided that the students (non-majors, after all) should only have to identify particular organs and structures, but were not required to know anything at all about the physiology (the special function) of each structure. I think this lack of required knowledge placed these students at a disadvantage because part of identifying something is to know a little about what it does. Or so I think because that's how I learn best.

After I had finished setting up the practicum, I found myself with a few minutes remaining before the exam was scheduled to begin, so I ran through the sweltering heat to the science building for an iced latte as a treat to myself. I later realized this was a mistake as I tried to move errant pins back to their proper location with shaking hands.

The exam didn't take long, as I had planned. My students, who seemed to prefer talking to me rather than taking the exam, had to be reminded repeatedly that this is a final exam, not a somewhat smelly social hour at the nearby pub. But really, I spent those last minutes with them secretly feeling happy that they still wanted to speak to me.

Almost all of my students are of the Jewish faith and many of them did not like hearing about evolution -- at first. But I think I did reach most them (I am not sure how I managed this) because they all became more comfortable and interested to discuss evolutionary theory with me as the semester progressed. This freedom to speak so freely with them about evolution was tremendously satisfying to me.

Of course, we all shared a passion for Harry Potter, which might have been how we connected. Shortly after the semester began, one of my students cautiously informed me during classtime that they had all agreed that I reminded them of Professor McGonagall -- this was before they knew of my passion for Harry Potter. I was surprised and complimented. I can only suppose that my lab section (there were four in total) was thought of as Gryffindor House, although none of us mentioned it. A few days later, I accidentally referred to the lecture professor in front of my students as "Professor Binns" (as mentioned in an earlier essay on this blog -- let this be a lesson to you all regarding the nicknames you choose in your blogging for your associates). My students, whom I had been referring to as "my Wizarding Apprentices", laughed and began referring to him that way, too. Oh, and don't let me forget to mention that, after finishing the taxonomy lab, the entire class had a great time trying to figure out the proper classification for hippogriffs, unicorns, and centaurs!

But today, it all ended as abruptly as it started.

Today, I realized that I am probably the last real interaction that most of these people will ever have with a scientist, or with science and evolution. I hope that I did a good job, that they learned something that interested them, that they learned something that they can take with them always, as I told them several times during class. I hope they saw the astonishing beauty that was before them every day, disguised as a pig. I hope that they grew to appreciate science and her practitioners. I hope that I had made a subtle difference in their lives and in how they think about things. And also, selfishly, I hope they will not forget me.

After the exam was over, I packed up my books and answer papers and walked out the door to find one of my students waiting for me.

"Thanks, Professor," she smiled at me. "I learned so much from you. Now I want to take an anatomy class!"

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Image sources;

Purchase College, State University of New York (no, I am not affiliated with them)

Holy Trinity School (no, I am not affiliated with them, either).

The Tangled Bank

Included with "The Best of Science, Nature and Medical Blog Writing"
Issue #34.

Included in the Carnival of Education Issue #26,
the Best of Education Blog Writing.

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11 responses so far

IBWO: Insider Comment on the ID Challenge

Jul 23 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

This email regarding the ivory-billed woodpecker was forwarded to me by a longtime bird pal of mine;

Actually, I am not on any side with regard to the paper's contention that the video doesn't support the assertion that IBWO still exists. It is just a crummy video. I thought Cornell made a mistake by not including all the audio evidence they have at the time of their initial publication. Apparently they made the judgment that the specificity of audio evidence is insufficiently well known among the public at large that they would publish it later for what they thought would be a narrower audience.

I eagerly await the analysis of Prum, Robbins and Jackson. And the rebuttal by Fitzpatrick, et al. And the re-rebuttal by Prum, et al.

When we were taken into the confidence of TNC and Cornell, we were told that there was no picture. They desperately needed a picture! David Luneau, who captured the video, sat right across the table from me and didn't say a word. Well, they still need a picture! Given how super-wary that bird is, I think Elvis is going to have to trip the shutter on himself.

Regards.

(This forwarded email was published from a nearby public library, while others of the public loudly bitch and whine in the background, demanding their own ten minutes of internet access).

3 responses so far

IBWO: Streaming Update

Jul 23 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

National Public Radio's Christopher Joyce (All Things Considered) has an update on the ivory-billed woodpecker (IBWO) controversy that you might be interested to listen to.

(This was published from a nearby public library)

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Birds in the News #19

Jul 22 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Birds in Science:

A newly published paper in the top-tier scientific journal, Nature, reveals that predatory dinosaurs had bird-like pulmonary system. "What was once formally considered unique to birds was present in some form in the ancestors of birds," said Patrick O'Connor, an assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine and lead author on the study, which was funded in part by the National Science Foundation. Birds long have fascinated biologists because of their unusual pulmonary system. Pulmonary air sacs prompt air to pass through the lungs twice during ventilation, which makes it the most efficient ever known. This system also creates holes in the skeleton of birds, which has led to a popular notion that birds have "air in their bones," O'Connor said. [An added bonus for you, dear readers, is PZ Myers' fine piece describing the dinosaur (and bird) respiratory system.]

The lovely Eclectus parrot, Eclectus roratus, endemic to Australia and several South Pacific islands, has always mystified humans with their astonishing colors. Unlike most parrot species, this species has color-coded males and females (dimorphic plumage coloration); males are brilliant emerald while females are shocking scarlet. So different are the sexes that for many decades, the males and females were classified as different species! Why are female Eclectus parrots more brightly colored than their mates? Australian National University researcher Robert Heinsohn and colleagues studied this centuries-old question by looking at the birds through avian eyes. Basically, the female's brilliant coloring comes in handy before nesting. Since nest cavities are rare commodities and because a competitor's first view of a potential nest tree is typically from above where the resident female spends most of her time just prior to breeding, her brilliant colors let others know this nest cavity is taken! This research was published today in the top-tier scientific journal, Science.

This is exactly what george bush wants to hear: Local toxic hotspots in the Arctic are caused by .. sea birds! Canadian researchers, Jules Blais of the University of Ottawa, Ontario, and colleagues, found that lakes in the Arctic that are frequented by northern fulmars, Fulmarus glacialis, can harbour 10-60 times more pollutants than neighbouring, birdless lakes. Pollutants enter the water in the birds' excrement, researchers say. These pollutants include persistent, toxic compounds such as mercury, DDT and hexachlorobenzene (HCB), which were once common ingredients in pesticides and fungicides. This research was published in the top-tier scientific journal, Science.

Scientists discovered that introduced house mice gang up on endangered albatross and kill their chicks. On one of the Earth's most remote islands, Gough Island, a speck in the Atlantic between the southern tips of Africa and South America, mice have learned, and are apparently teaching each other, how to attack and kill bird chicks that are 200 times their size. Scientists found that Tristan albatrosses, Diomedea dabbenena, were losing their chicks at an extremely high rate: up to 80% were dying. Husband-and-wife team Ross Wanless and Andrea Angel spent a year on the island videotaping birds' nests and the videos confirm that mice are taking on the chicks, biting them over and over until they die from loss of blood or infection. Wanless, an invasive-species biologist from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, vividly recalls watching the first videos. "It was carnage. Chicks half alive, with massive gaping wounds and guts hanging out." The mice take advantage of the fact that the birds, which have evolved in an area that has been without land predators for millions of years, have no defensive response against such attacks.

Bird Flu News:

In the admirable spirit of the 2005 Bush administration and the 1930s Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko, the Chinese government is ignoring science that it finds "inconvenient". The head of the ministry of agriculture's veterinary bureau, Jia Youling, has rejected research on bird flu published last week in the top-tier scientific journal, Nature, by Yi Guan and his colleagues at the universities of Hong Kong and Shantou. The paper concluded from genetic analysis that the H5N1 bird flu killing migratory birds at Qinghai Lake in northwest China had come from southern China and an independent team in Beijing reported similar findings. Stubborn Chinese officials instead claimed that the virus came from another country. Last week Jia told the official Xinhua news service that Guan's paper "made the wrong conclusion" and "lacks credibility" because birds do not fly to Qinghai from southern China - even though this is a well-known migratory route (click for pictorial link detailing avian migratory routes, also see a more detailed account of Chinese avian migratory routes). Stubborn Chinese officials go one step further than the current American administration by claiming that Guan's group did not go to Qinghai nor did they have permission to do the research, and that his lab does not meet safety standards.

In closely related news, so-called "Trojan Ducks" might be spreading avian influenza throughout Asia, thanks to a mutation in the viral genome that renders it harmless to ducks but deadly to other birds, animals and humans. The H5N1 strain of the virus has been circulating in Southeast Asia since 2002, killing dozens of people in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. At least 97 people have been infected.

Because the Thai people love their fighting cocks to death and refuse to stop or postpone the vile practice of cockfighting despite the threat of avian influenza, Thai officials now issue passports for every cock that records his recent health history to ensure the widely-traveled birds do not add to the spread of avian influenza. The "passport" features the name of the cock's owner, as well as photos of the bird, and close-ups of its shins and head, said Yukol Limlaemthong, head of the Livestock Development Department. Thais are devoted to cockfighting, and prize birds can carry price tags of up to 1 million baht ($23,900).

Birds and Harry Potter:


As you all might have surmised from my official blog handle (Hedwig the owl), I am a very devoted fan of the Harry Potter book series. So in honor of the newly released and much anticipated book number 6, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, I was sent the link to this wonderful webpage by Laura Erickson, The Owls of Harry Potter. Interestingly, Laura, whom I correspond with privately, goes by the moniker "Professor McGonagowl" while lecturing publically about owls. Coincidentally, my own students (wizarding apprentices all), decided within the first few days of class that I reminded them of Professor McGonagall (obviously my attempts to impersonate Professor Snape were unsuccessful). [Pictured above: Harry Potter and his pet, Hedwig, the snowy owl, Bubo scandiacus]

Birds in the Media:

Featured this week on the streaming show, BirdNote, were Rock Pigeons, Columba livia -- and why they walk the way they do; the Tufted Puffin, Fratercula cirrhata; the Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, and plumage that protects. You can find a linked archive of all past shows and links to other sites of interest at this site. BirdNote can be heard M-F, 8:58-9:00 am on a variety of National Public Radio affiliates throughout Western Washington and Southwest British Columbia, otherwise, if you live elsewhere, you can get this show streaming on the web.

Speaking of books, I cannot resist telling you that the latest catalog from Princeton University Press shows that Joseph M. Forshaw will release his NEW Parrots of the World in February 2006 at $65.00. Guess who is planning to scoop even more cat turds so she can save those extra pennies, nickles and dimes in eager anticipation for this day? [These names are for Ian, who is going to buy me a copy of this book (aren't ya??): species shown on the book cover (top to bottom and left to right); hyacinthine macaw, Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus; red-fronted(?) conure, Aratinga wagleri; black-masked lovebird, Agapornis personata, salmon-crested cockatoo, Cacatua moluccensis; blue-streaked lory, Eos reticulata; Bourke's Parrot, Neophema bourkii; Eastern rosella, Platycercus eximius]

Bird Mysteries:

In a previous issue of Birds in the News, I linked to a news story that described the mysterious abandonment of nests by 28,000 pelicans at a wildlife refuge central North Dakota. The plot thickens because this year, US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) officials are investigating the mysterious deaths of thousands of pelican chicks in this same location. At least 8,000 chicks may have died over the past two months, said Ken Torkelson, a spokesman for the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The USFWS found that approximately 500 chicks remain from a nesting period that could have produced as many as 9,000 of them. All but about 2,000 adults had left, from a population estimated at 18,850 in late May. White pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, are one of the largest birds in North America, breeds only once a year, and males and females take turns caring for their young. The birds have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet and live approximately 25 years.

With a record number of dead seabirds washing up on West Coast beaches from central California to British Columbia, marine biologists are raising the alarm about rising ocean temperatures and dwindling plankton populations. "Something big is going on out there," said Julia Parrish, an associate professor in the School of Aquatic Fisheries and Sciences at the University of Washington. "I'm left with no obvious smoking gun, but birds are a good signal [of environmental disaster] because they feed high up on the food chain." On Washington beaches, bird surveyors in May typically find an average of one dead Brandt's cormorant, Phalacrocorax penicillatus, for every 34 miles of beach. This year, cormorant deaths averaged one for every eight-tenths of a mile, according to data gathered by volunteers with the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, which Parrish has directed since 2000. "This is somewhere between five and 10 times the highest number of bird deaths we've seen before," she said, adding that she expected June figures to show a similar trend.

People Hurting Birds:

Figures from the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) breeding bird census identified an alarming 62 per cent reduction in Scotland's swift population between 1994 and 2003. The problem for swifts, Apus apus, is one of accommodation; the buildings where they traditionally nest are demolished or renovated without any provision being made for replacement nest sites. "Many of our swifts nest in church towers and other buildings," says Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of land use policy for the RSPB in Scotland, adding that modern building methods and materials such as the soffit and fascia boards for sealing roofs all too often stop the birds from getting inside the roofing. "And they are very traditional nesters," he adds. "They will come back to the same site, sometimes for hundreds of years."

Have you ever held a dead eagle? The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act says that anyone who so much as collects a fallen eagle feather off a forest floor could face as much as a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Despite these tight regulations, the system of legal protections and government-controlled distribution of eagle parts to Native Americans is showing signs of breaking down and the demand for eagle feathers is soaring. Black-market prices for eagle feathers and parts are climbing and that could set off a wave of poaching — with disastrous results.

People Helping Birds:

Scientists report good news for another endangered woodpecker species; the population of the severely endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, Picoides borealis, has increased: family groups with three birds or more have increased nearly 30 percent, from 4,694 in 1994 to 6,061. Farming, clear-cutting and commercial forestry deprived them of critical habitat and the woodpeckers were declared endangered in 1970. The Fish and Wildlife Service launched a program in the 1990s to save them. "We have turned the corner," said Ralph Costa, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's red-cockaded woodpecker recovery coordinator in Clemson, S.C.

Carrying binoculars and notebooks, thousands of nature lovers and conservationists scoured semiarid grasslands of western India last Sunday to count a bird considered on the brink of extinction. The great Indian bustard, Ardeotis nigriceps, is long-legged with a black crown on its forehead and stands up to 3 1/2 feet tall. It breeds in grassy plains in western India and its dwindling numbers are the first warning that the grasslands are deteriorating. "Never before has a census been done on such a scale," said conservationist D.R. Panihar about the launch of the first in a series of efforts to protect the bird. "The situation is so alarming that if effective conservation steps are not taken the great Indian bustard will be extinct soon." India ranks third after Indonesia and the Philippines among Asian countries with the most threatened species of birds. Hunting and livestock grazing are the main reasons for halving the population of the great Indian bustard in India in the past six years.

In Hornell, New York, city employees saved an American kestrel chick, Falco sparverius. The hapless fledgling was found floating in a mud puddle in the city garage during one of the region's hideous downpours. The parent birds recently left the fledgling behind to fend for itself, according to Department of Public Works Foreman Mitch Cornish. Thanks to these human heroes, there is one more American kestrel alive today. This short story includes a very cute picture of the rescued bird.

Depending upon the outcome, this story could have either gone into this category or into "People Hurting Birds". In Port Orchard, Washington, a group of feral quaker parrots (also known as the monk parakeet), Myiopsitta monachus, protested vehemently when an expert tore apart the nest they'd built on a decommissioned cellular-phone tower. Fred Olin, a local resident and bird lover, circulated a petition opposing the birds' capture and collected more than 1,000 signatures. Supporters hope the birds will rebuild their nest in Cingular's new cell tower, which is approximately twice as tall as the old 60-footer.

Peculiar Birds:

In Moessingen, Germany, birds have learnt to imitate the ring tones of omnipresent cell phones, say German ornithologists. Jackdaws, starlings and jays were the best mimics, said said Richard Schneider of the NABU Bird Conservation Center near the university city of Tuebingen, Germany. He noted that even practiced birdwatchers [and cell phone chatterers?] were fooled by the birds' ring tones. The birds were simply adapting to their environment in imitating human sounds in what he termed an "evolutionary playground". "The birds have an uncanny ability to mimic these ring tones. This has picked up in tandem with the boom in mobile phone ownership," said Schneider.

Many thanks to my bird watching pals Ian, Caren, Ellen, Robin, Laura, Fred and Ron for sending me some of the links that you are enjoying in this issue of Birds in the News.

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IBWO Fans and mp3 Fans Unite!

Jul 21 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

A friend, who asked me to promise to not reveal what I know to anyone about the IBWO dispute, sent me an mp3 to make up for the fact that the entire world scooped me on this story. Anyway, I want to share this song with you; The Lord God Bird (mp3 link), was written by Sufjan Stevens at the request of my heroes, National Public Radio (NPR). The Lord God Bird (and I do mean the song and not the bird) exists because independent radio producers Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister were curious about how Stevens writes his songs, which, much like their own work, are filled with stories of places and people. So, they introduced Stevens to the Arkansas town of Brinkley, located close to where the IBWO was first rediscovered. Stevens then wrote a song about the IBWO, locally known as the "lord god" or "great god" bird because of its breathtaking appearance. The Lord God Bird is currently rated as the 72nd most popular download by The Podcast Directory and is only available from NPR.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis.
1. Adult female; 2. Adult female; 3. Adult male; 4. Adult female.

2002, David Allen Sibley.

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