Archive for: November, 2005

I Passed Eighth Grade Science

Nov 28 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

If this is an example of the general quality of the average eighth grade science test, it's no wonder that our kids are failing. They can't decipher the tests because they are so poorly written.

For example, you will not get 8/8 unless you substitute neutron for neuron on this test. And that is just the beginning.

You Passed 8th Grade Science

Congratulations, you got 8/8 correct!
Could You Pass 8th Grade Science?

10 responses so far

It Isn't Easy Being Green

Nov 28 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

According to this survey, my blog is the wrong color.

Your Blog Should Be Green

Your blog is smart and thoughtful - not a lot of fluff.
You enjoy a good discussion, especially if it involves picking apart ideas.
However, you tend to get easily annoyed by any thoughtless comments in your blog.
What Color Should Your Blog or Journal Be?

3 responses so far

Holiday Gift Idea

Nov 27 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

What does a disenfranchised chemist do for a living when she is unable to find a job doing anything at all?? Even though I am not a chemist, I have spent years wondering this myself in the context of my own tiny life and today discovered one possibility in my email box from a self-described "disenfranchised struggling moonlighting female scientist". She reports that some of her similarly disenfranchised and unemployable colleagues actually got together and started their own business, designing and selling t-shirts, mugs and other paraphernalia to their still-employed scientist-colleagues and their geeky friends and family members. So if you, dear readers, would like to support several more scientists who are currently struggling to survive and receive something special in return for your contribution, you should check out Yellow Ibis (no, I didn't name them).

I really love their logo (pictured at top), and wish they had a t-shirt with that on it they tell me that they can make one for me if I wish!

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5 responses so far

Birds in the News #37

Nov 26 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Portrait of the endangered Whooping Crane, Grus americana

Birds in Science

Removing an egg from the endangered whooping crane's nest increases the species' chances of survival despite governmental concerns about tampering with nature, says a University of Alberta scientist. Dr. Mark Boyce, from the Faculty of Science, studied the policy of removing from Wood Buffalo National Park one of two whooping crane, Grus americana (pictured top), eggs laid and raising it in a "foster-parenting" program. Cranes usually rear a single chick and the other dies to siblicide or is killed by a predator, such as wolf or fox. The egg-removal program was initiated years ago by Ernie Kuyt, an Edmonton-based scientist who reasoned that one egg could be taken and used for artificial propagation programs. The idea was so successful, says Boyce, that the whooping crane's numbers have skyrocketed to over 200 birds in the original population and two new populations have been established elsewhere. But Parks Canada prefers that no future egg collections occur in Wood Buffalo National Park due to concerns that egg removals may reduce the productivity of the whooping crane population and that more generally, human intervention and disturbance should be minimized. Boyce's research found, however, that taking one egg away actually increases the probability of nest success. His paper, co-authored by Subhash Lele from the U of A's mathematical and statistical sciences department as well as Brian Johns from the Canadian Wildlife Service, is published in the December issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Biological Conservation.

European songbirds are canceling their annual winter breaks in Africa, preferring instead to fly to Great Britain, bird experts say. The surprising detour in European warbler migrations was revealed by data from an ongoing survey that involves bird-watchers across Britain. It's as if the birds are now saying, "Let's not bother to go all the way to Africa this winter," said Greg Conway, a researcher with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who runs the survey.

People Helping Birds

A report commissioned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) showed that more than half of the 60 species of migratory birds of prey found in Africa and Eurasia face extinction, either globally or within their regions. "Of all types of birds, birds of prey have always fascinated people," UK Biodiversity Minister Jim Knight said this week at the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species in Kenya. Fortunately, Britain has put forward a plan for international action to protect such rare birds of prey as eagles, vultures and owls from extinction. If the 93 signatories of the convention agree by the end of the conference on Friday to commit to the British proposal, the UK will organise an intergovernmental conference to work out further details, Knight said. So far Britain, backed by all its 24 European Union partners, has outlined priorities for the protection of the threatened species, said a DEFRA spokeswoman in Nairobi.

People Hurting Birds

The Kori Bustard, Ardeotis kori (pictured), is the world’s largest bustard and it occurs across sub-Saharan Africa. Although this species is still common in some protected areas, it is currently experiencing rapid population declines across much of its range. Botswana is a stronghold for the species, but it is threatened by habitat loss due to overgrazing and poaching. BirdLife Botswana has undertaken an investigation of Kori Bustard poaching and found the practice to be widespread, both for local consumption and for export to South Africa and beyond. "We found that many Kori Bustards are poached for local consumption, mainly by men over 30,” says BirdLife Botswana’s Kabelo Senyatso. “Snares are mostly used to kill birds in KGR, whilst guns are favored in KTP. In some areas only tribal elders are allowed to eat bustard meat. Sometimes a traditional doctor is brought in to 'treat' it before it is eaten, because of a belief that bustard meat can otherwise cause mental illness."

Ivory-billed Woodpecker News

Scientists and birders will resume their search this winter for the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, to prove, once and for all, that the bird really lives in the vast eastern Arkansas wetlands. "The birds are relatively silent," said Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and member of the search team. "The woods, they're like a jungle, just thick foliage, just incredibly hot, humid, buggy and snakes everywhere. Everything about it is just as bad as could be." A crew from Cornell and its partner agencies will train 100 volunteers for the six-month search of 500,000 acres, Gallagher said.

Avian Influenza News

Countries that ban the import of wild birds to stave off deadly avian flu may drive the trade underground and make it more difficult to detect the spread of the virus, a senior UN scientist warned on Sunday. A number of countries, including European Union members, have slapped a ban on the import of live birds and feathers in a desperate attempt to contain the spread of the virus. "As long as there is a demand, there will be a trade and you can't stamp out illegal trade by banning the legal trade," David Morgan, head of the Scientific Support Unit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

A respected Japanese scientist, who works with the World Health Organization, says 300 people have died of H5N1 bird flu in China, including seven cases caused by human-to-human transmission. He says he was given the information in confidence by Chinese colleagues who have been threatened with arrest if they disclosed the extent of the problem. The allegations, which he revealed at a meeting in Germany, contrast sharply with China’s official position. GrrlScientist wonders Oh, right. And this is the same government that claims benzene poisoning is not occurring at this very moment.

Streaming Birds

Did any of you hear the story about Sandhill cranes on National Public Radio's Morning Edition this past Tuesday morning? I did and I liked it, and I think you will like it, too.

On BirdNote, for the week of November 21, we consider the LBBs and LBJs, the little brown birds and the little brown jobs so frustrating to new birders; a bit about feeding birds in winter; ducks in eclipse plumage
; and on Thanksgiving day, what else? the Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo (pictured); and "Which Jay Was That?" -- about the Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, and another blue jay, the Steller's Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri. BirdNote programs are two-minute vignettes that incorporate the rich sounds of birds provided by Cornell University and by other sound recordists, with photographs and written stories that illustrate the interesting -- and in some cases, truly amazing -- abilities of birds. Some of the shows are Pacific Northwest-oriented, but many are of general interest. BirdNote can be heard live, Monday through Friday, 8:58-9:00AM in Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia on KPLU radio and now also in North Central Washington state on KOHO radio. All episodes are available in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs. [mp3/podcast].

Miscellaneous Birds

I normally don't link to obituaries, but this one is rather interesting, especially for the bird banders out there. Jane Olyphant of Lake Elmo, New Jersey, was a licensed bird bander for 45 years. During her lifetime, she fastened tiny aluminum bands on 84,000 birds, most of them migratory songbirds. With a license granted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she banded her first bird, a white-breasted nuthatch, in her back yard on Oct. 1, 1959. "Young people stare spellbound when they see a small, vibrant, alert bird first in the net and then in my hand," she wrote of her nature-center teaching in the November-December 1977 edition of the Minnesota Volunteer, a newsletter of the Department of Natural Resources. The biggest challenge was "to help them become aware of life going on around them and to explain the vital role birds play in the world."

Thanks to my bird pals; Caren, Ellen and Ron for some of the links you are enjoying here. Please accept my apologies for the lateness of this issue of Birds in the News. I am having trouble locating a consistent internet connection and this is particularly apparent (and annoying) on holidays, when my internet options are seriously limited.

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Included with the Big Apple Blog Festival
Issue 16.

6 responses so far

I and the Bird #11 Now Available

Nov 23 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

I was just notified that the eleventh issue of I and the Bird was published this morning. For those of you who are new to "this blog thang", I and the Bird is a relatively new blog carnival. Blog carnivals are link harvests of writing or photoessays or other materials published on blogs that meet certain criteria. In the case of I and the Bird, all contributions were published within the past couple months and are dedicated to celebrating some aspect of wild birds and their biology. The current host kindly contacted me a couple days ago, hoping I had something to contribute to this edition, so I sent her a link to one of my recent stories. You'll have to peek there to figure out which piece it was (especially yous twos, Rob and Chris; you might be pleased even though I still want to rework that piece), and while you are looking, you will also find many other fine stories about birds to entertain you over this holiday weekend.

And to the rest of you, dear readers, I promise that there isn't even one recipe for cooking any species of bird in the collection.

No responses yet

Galapagos Tortoises Visit NYC

Nov 23 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Galapagos giant tortoise, Geochelone elephantopus.

Early this morning, I visited the two Galapagos tortoises, Geochelone elephantopus, who currently reside on the third floor of the American Museum of Natural History. Even though the sign outside their large glass-enclosed area claims they are female, their handlers now suspect that they are both male. Apparently unperturbed by their mistaken gender, these teen-aged giants act as unofficial greeters to the crowds that are flocking to the newly opened Darwin exhibit at the museum.

"They're brothers. That's Frank and this is Charlie," Beth said, pointing to each tortoise in turn. The closest tortoise, Charlie, looked serenely through the glass at us, a piece of hay hanging out of his mouth.

Even though they are brothers, Beth explained, they are distinct and their caregivers can easily distinguish them by the shape of their scutes, the thick scales comprised of keratin that cover their bony shells. Keratin is a protein that is also found in hair, nails and hooves. But there are other physical differences between these brothers, too.

"For one, Frank is heavier, and Charlie is taller," Beth explained. I leaned down and squinted my eyes, trying to compare their respective shell heights from their level and found myself wishing for a tape measure.

Frank and Charlie's ancestors are terrestrial reptiles found only on the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos lie in the Pacific Ocean, west of Ecuador (click map above for larger image in its own window). The Galapagos are really a group of more than 15 islands and islets, and each one has a different habitat and is occupied by a distinct combination of plants and animals, including giant tortoises. Historically, approximately 250,000 tortoises inhabited these islands, but unfortunately, their numbers plummeted because sailors ate them and routinely abandoned their domestic animals, such as dogs, pigs, goats, cats and rats, on these islands. Because these introduced species either ate tortoise eggs, preyed on young tortoises or competed with the adult tortoises for limited plant resources, only 10-15,000 individuals are alive today.

After a century of scientific study, it is not known for certain if each island's tortoise population can be classified as a true species, or if they might instead be subspecies or local variants of one species. However, recent DNA evidence suggests that at least a few of these island populations are legitimate species.

Giant tortoises have long been the focus of great scientific and historical significance because they were one of the many species that fascinated Charles Darwin on his voyages.

"I never dreamed that islands, about fifty or sixty miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted," Darwin wrote about these tortoises in his popular 1839 book, The Voyage of the Beagle.

After a conversation with the Vice-Governor of the islands, who claimed that each tortoise population was characterized by marked physical differences, Darwin discovered that he too, could identify a tortoise's home island, particularly by carefully noting the tortoise's overall size and the shape of its carapace (the bony shell). Just as selective breeding by humans caused the wolf to be modified into hundreds of distinct breeds of dogs, each breed with its own talents, these tortoises were likewise modified by the demands of their new environment. Over the millennia, this selective pressure shaped the original tortoises into distinct populations inhabiting each island. Because these changes are influenced by nature instead of humans, this essential process of evolution is known as natural selection. Consequently, because these animals illustrated the correlation between geographic isolation and morphological divergence, they became instrumental to the formation of Darwin's concept of evolution through natural selection.

In Darwin's day, there were 15 distinct populations of Galapagos tortoises. Representatives from 14 populations were formally described by the scientists of that time and 11 of these populations are still live today, although some are endangered.

These populations fall into two "morphotypes" based on the shape of their carapace, which is one of the tortoise's physical adaptations to the habitat found on their particular island home. It was noticed that generally, tortoises living on larger and wetter islands are very large, with domed carapaces and stubby, thick legs. These are the "dome-backed" group, of which Frank and Charlie are representatives.

The other morphotype, the so-called "saddleback" tortoises, are found on smaller and drier islands in the Galapagos archipelago. They are physically smaller than their dome-shelled cousins, with longer and thinner legs, and their carapaces flare out above their necks and legs. It is thought that these physical modifications provide the saddlebacked animals with greater mobility necessary to reach the succulent pads of the Opuntia cactus (interestingly, this cactus, which is a major source of water on the dry islands, evolved a tree-like form in response to the demands of hungry and thirsty tortoises). Because the saddle-backed tortoises reminded the early Spanish explorers of a type of riding saddle called the "galapago", this group inspired the name for these islands.

But who were the ancestors of all these tortoises and how did they get to the remote Galapagos islands? New DNA data reveal that the giant Galapagos tortoises are close relatives to the much smaller chaco tortoises, Geochelone chilensis, that are native to South America. It is thought that the Galapagos islands were colonized 2-3 million years ago by either a pregnant female tortoise or by several individuals that rafted from the mainland to the newly formed volcanic island of Espanola or San Cristobal. From this tenuous beginning, the resulting offspring of these tortoises then colonized the other islands in the Galapagos archipelago.

Unlike their mainland cousins, these island tortoises are huge animals. Male Galapagos tortoises from some island populations can attain a carapace length of 130 centimeters (approximately 4 feet) and can weigh up to 270 kilograms (600 pounds). Males are much larger than the females, who never exceed 300 pounds. Galapagos tortoises reach sexual maturity at approximately 40 years of age and can live to be 150 years old. So as these tortoises go, Frank and Charlie are mere whippersnappers: they are roughly the size of a footrest and weigh approximately 80 pounds each.

"They just celebrated their 13th birthday this past August," said Beth to a crowd of their admirers who were watching the two boulder-shaped animals move sedately around their enclosure. She noted that it's a good thing that these tortoises are relatively small because the larger and stronger adults tended to walk through closed doors when they so desired.

"If we had a full-grown male on display, he could crash through the wall of the display," Beth explained. I peered around the large reptile hall for a moment, imagining what it might be like to be greeted by a 600-pound giant tortoise out for an early morning stroll across the gleaming floors.

"Do they bite?" I asked after a moment, watching the piece of hay disapp
ear into Charlie's mouth.

"No. Well, not really," Beth paused. "If they do bite, they just grab a little bit of fabric [of your clothes]."

As you might have already surmised, Galapagos tortoises are herbivores. Depending upon the island where they originated, they eat a diet consisting of those particular species of prickly pear cactus and fruits, bromeliads, water ferns, leaves, shrubs and grasses that are native to their island homes. Beth noted that they have good color vision, and show distinct preferences for food items that are red, green or yellow in color.

"This is probably because foods with these colors had the highest nutrition content on their islands," she said.

The tortoises also have tremendous water storage capacities, and have been known to survive as long as one year without water. This led to their popularity as a menu item from the 1700s onward for hungry sailors craving fresh meat and oil during their long voyages.

Because Galapagos tortoises are protected species, Frank and Charlie were domestically bred animals: they hatched in Oklahoma and then were purchased seven years ago by Reptileland in Pennsylvania where they usually live when not visiting museums in New York City. Beth was not certain which island was home to Frank and Charlie's ancestors because one parent's ancestry cannot be verified.

"They're probably mutts," she said.

Regardless of their ancestry, Frank and Charlie are fascinating animals with a remarkable story to tell about the origin of all life on earth.


GrrlScientist sincerely thanks Beth for answering her many questions.

More Information

AMNH tortoise cam. Image refreshed every 30 seconds.

The Endangered Galapagos Tortoise, Discover Galapagos. Provides information about each tortoise population.

Galapagos Tortoise, Honolulu Zoo (includes video of nesting tortoises).

Interactive Galapagos map.

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Included in the Bonfire of the Vanities Blog Carnival, issue #127

Included with the Big Apple Blog Festival
Issue 16.

8 responses so far

The Movie of My Life

Nov 19 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

The Movie Of Your Life Is A Black Comedy

In your life, things are so twisted that you just have to laugh.
You may end up insane, but you'll have fun on the way to the asylum.

Your best movie matches: Being John Malkovich, The Royal Tenenbaums, American Psycho

If Your Life Was a Movie, What Genre Would It Be?

Of course, I've never seen any of these movies, so you'll have to tell me, dear readers -- are they are good? What are they about?

10 responses so far

Blogging Rights

Nov 19 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Surely you have read stories of people who were fired for blogging, but did you know that Rick Santorum (R-PA) is trying to restrict the public's right to access taxpayer-funded information provided by the National Weather Service? Were you aware that Sony sold millions of music CDs that they intentionally infected with computer viruses programmed to damage the computer hard drives of unsuspecting customers? Do these issues affecting freedom of digital information and expression concern you? If so, and especially if you are a blogger, then this is the website for you (click image).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is working to protect freedom of digital information and particularly freedom of expression for bloggers. To this end, they have created an online legal guide for bloggers that anyone can refer to. This legal guide provides information about bloggers' legal liability issues, bloggers as journalists, and other legal issues, such as students who blog, blogging about political campaigns, workplace blogging, and publishing adult material on one's blog. You can also join EFF and support their efforts by making a donation (I joined, and my t-shirt is pictured on the right). You can also check out EFF's action alert page to learn more about who is assaulting the public's right to free speech and what types of speech are are under attack.

Via Crooked Timber

5 responses so far

Birds in the News #36

Nov 18 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

Greenwing Macaw, Ara chloroptera.

Birds in Science:

In the Solomon Islands, east of New Guinea and northeast of Australia, lives the monarch flycatcher, a medium-size songbird, which is refining our understanding of evolution. Curious about how new species arrive on islands, Chris Filardi, a University of Montana visiting scholar, began gathering DNA samples from the flycatchers and reconstructing relationships between the birds on the islands and on the island’s nearest continents. What he and co-researcher Robert Moyle discovered was that islands are much like a petri dish that sprouts its own biodiversity. Contrary to conventional thinking, the scientists, both of whom work for the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, have found evidence that islands are not evolutionary dead ends, but can actually be sources of new species. “If we keep getting this kind of result, it will be relevant for the whole world,” Filardi said. “And because of that, we will have to think differently about islands everywhere and what we do with them.” This study was published last week in the top-tier research journal, Nature.

A change in the diet of seabirds may be making them less intelligent and lowering their chances of survival and breeding, a new study shows. Scientists used lab experiments to mimic changes observed in the diets of kittiwakes in the Bering Sea - changes probably caused by a warming ocean. Chicks given a diet low in lipid-rich fish were less able to find food. The 1980s saw the start of a decline in populations of red-legged kittiwakes, Rissa brevirostris (pictured), on the Pribilof Islands in the southeastern Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska. The cause has been unclear, though scientists have documented a change in their diet that occurred around the same time. Around the coast of the UK, some sea bird populations are in catastrophic decline, also due largely to the removal of high-lipid prey such as sand eels. This appears also to be linked with climate change. The study is published in the Royal Society’s science journal Proceedings B.

A deep-voiced black-capped chickadee, Poecile atricapillus (pictured), may wonder why other birds ignore it, but there may be a good reason behind the snub, says a University of Alberta study that looked into how the bird responds to calls. Dr. Isabelle Charrier and Dr. Chris Sturdy modified the black-capped chickadee calls, played those sounds back to the bird and observed how they reacted. They found that the chickadee relies on several acoustic features including pitch, order of the notes and rhythm of the call. They also rejected the calls of the control bird, the gray-crowned rosy finch, in favor of their own species. The chickadees’ two most well-known vocalizations are the “chick-a-dee” call and the “fee-bee” song. Males produce their song to attract a mate and to defend their territory during the breeding season. The learned call is produced by both sexes throughout the year and is believed to serve a variety of functions such as raising mild alarm, maintaining contact between mates and co-ordinating flock activities. They even go through stages of learning this “song language,” which explains why juvenile birds can be heard frantically practicing to perfect this call. In this study, the researchers found that if they raise the pitch, the bird would still respond, but if they lowered it, the chickadee stopped answering. “We speculate that this happens because the pitch may be related to size, so the chickadee thinks, ‘wow, that bird sounds big,’ and they stay away from it,” says Sturdy, co-author of the study. “The first thing birds use to identify vocalizations is the frequency range. Different birds use different acoustic ranges as a filter, so if it is too high or too low, they ignore it.” This research is published in the current edition of the research journal, Behavioural Processes.

Birds in Education:

Professor David Hall, a handful of undergraduate research students and a volunteer taxidermist named Miles Stelios, have been working on a teaching collection of stuffed birds and skeletons for his undergraduate biology classes. Most of the birds in Hall’s collection died of natural causes, or were found dead after accidents such as flying into windows. These birds bodies are prepared and used for teaching and public outreach. “Outreach is what makes me feel all warm and fuzzy,” Hall said. “As a lecturer, I try to get more job satisfaction. I want to use it for teachers to improve science education in Texas, to get people interested in conservation and biology in general. It’s a huge benefit.” Most of Hall’s work for the collection has been on his own time, since, as he says, the University puts more funding toward research than materials for teaching. GrrlScientist says; this is a long but very interesting and worthwhile story, and the photographs are beautiful.

People Hurting Birds:

This story wins the award for the most unbelievably disgusting display of human stupidity and cruelty in 2005. This week, a sparrow flew into an exhibition hall in Amsterdam, became trapped and then panicked, knocking over 23,000 dominoes that had been set up for a new world record attempt. The terrified and defenseless bird was cornered and then shot dead by an exterminator packing an air rifle. The miscreant was a House Sparrow, Passer domesticus (pictured), an endangered species in the Netherlands. “Under Dutch law, you need a permit to kill this kind of bird, and a permit can only be granted when there’s a danger to public health or a crop,” said Dutch animal protection agency spokesman, Niels Dorland. The Endemol Production company, the dumbass TV firm that organized the event, attempted to defend their inexcusable revenge killing. “That bird was flying around and knocking over a lot of dominoes. More than 100 people from 12 countries had worked for more than a month setting them up,” said Endemol spokesman Jeroen van Waardenberg. BooHooHooHoo. So besting their own world record is more important than a life? How far would they stoop to protect their silly world record, a record they already hold? Fortunately, the Dutch animal protection agency plans to submit the case to prosecutors. A Dutch website,, is dedicated to collecting people's reactions to the death of this sparrow. So far, more than 4,000 have been posted.

d Flu News:

Why would anyone want to resurrect a long-dead flu virus? This is the question that the public commonly asks regarding research into the 1918 flu virus that killed millions of people worldwide. But the genetic sequence from the virus has the potential to help us develop vaccines that might help protect humans from another pandemic. However, recently reconstructed 1918 virus surprised researchers with its weird genetic sequence. Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger, a molecular pathologist at the Armed Forces Institute of Technology who led the research team that reconstructed the long-extinct virus, said that a few things seemed clear. First, the 1918 virus appears to be a bird flu virus. Second, if this virus originated in a bird, it is not a species that anyone has studied before. It is not like the H5N1 strain of bird influenzas in Asia, which sickened at least 116 people, and killed 60. Additionally, it is not like the influenza viruses that infect wild waterfowl in North America. Yet many researchers still believe that the 1918 virus, which caused the worst infectious disease epidemic in human history, is a bird flu virus. If so, it is the only “bird flu” virus that has ever been known to cause a human pandemic. That, Dr. Taubenberger said, gives rise to a question. Are scientists looking for the next pandemic flu virus in all the wrong places? Is there a bird species that no one ever thought about that harbors the next 1918-like flu? And if so, what bird is it, and where does it live? [pictured: electron micrograph of Influenza viruses]

Incidentally, the parrot that was thought to be the UK’s first victim of bird flu probably did not have the virus, it was finally reported earlier this week. A Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs report admitted that a mix-up in samples taken from a quarantine center where several birds died led to the South American parrot being suspected of bringing the killer virus into the country and of being its first fatality. It now appears that the only birds to be infected at the centre in Essex came from a consignment of finch-like mesias, Leiothrix argentauris, imported from Taiwan. Samples taken from a mesia that died and from the Amazon parrot from Surinam, who died in an adjoining cage at the Pegasus Birds center, became mixed up, leading the testing laboratory wrongly to conclude that the parrot was the source of the H5N1 bird flu strain. The report says that 53 of 101 mesias died in quarantine. It was also found that the virus was not passed on to other bird species being held at the center - a fact that Ben Bradshaw, the animal welfare minister, hailed as having “potentially huge implications” for international efforts to tackle avian flu. GrrlScientist note: Why is this story not even mentioned in any of the newspapers in the USA, and it was barely even mentioned in the UK, even though the original story received so much press coverage? And why did it take almost one month for this story to appear in the British papers? (The mix-up was first reported to have occurred on 26 October and this story was published on 16 November). Perhaps ‘pandemic fear’ becoming a little too convenient?

European Union veterinary experts on Wednesday extended a ban on imports of captive live birds from outside the EU for a further two months to guard against the spread of bird flu, the European Commission said. The ban, which covers captive live birds other than poultry imported for commercial purposes, was imposed in late October and was due to expire at the end of this month. It will now run until the end of January, when the EU vets will review it again.

As Bush outlines the nation's plans to respond to a possible avian influenza pandemic, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) today called on the federal government to immediately take preventative measures to reduce the risk of a pandemic, with a specific focus on the animal-human disease pathways. “President Bush and the U.S. Congress should not overlook several steps that they could take now to minimize the chances of an avian influenza pandemic,” said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. “Cockfighting, the importation of live birds as pets, live poultry markets, and the unregulated transportation of birds all present unnecessary risks of spreading disease and should be halted.” GrrlScientist note: Mr. Pacelle is very cleverly using our “bird flu” fears to shove his own political agenda down our collective throats. Part of his agenda is to prevent Americans from enjoying the company of domestically-bred companion birds. Did you see how he managed his sleight-of-hand? Even though most of these guidelines are reasonable, there is one notable exception: There is no rational reason to ban importation of live pet birds. The USA only allows the importation of two pet birds per person, and "pet birds" are defined as birds that have been kept as pets by their owner for at least one year. Mr. Pacelle overlooks this, and he also conveniently forgets the fact that pet birds almost always live indoors with their owners where they are unlikely to be exposed to any influenzas, and further, he ignores the fact that all imported birds are subjected to a 30 day quarantine at a licensed quarantine station prior to being released to their owners. The evidence suggests that, in the vanishingly rare event that a pet bird might be infected with an influenza virus, they will either develop the illness or clear the virus from their systems during that 30 day period of quarantine. Additionally, it is useful to remember that there are many flu viruses out there that are not the deadly H5N1 that terrifies us, so in the incredibly unlikely event that an imported bird develops the flu, it is probably not H5N1.

Streaming Birds:

This week on BirdNote, we peer into the world of the Black Oystercatcher, Haematopus bachmani; learn about the eagle eye (the website includes an amazing photo of a Golden Eagle taken by my bird pal, Don Bacchus); soar along with Red-tailed Hawks, Buteo jamaicensis; celebrate the “snowbird,” the Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis; and also they discuss the return from the North of the Trumpeter swan, Cygnus buccinator, and Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus (a swan is pictured). BirdNote programs are two-minute vignettes that incorporate the rich sounds of birds provided by Cornell University and by other sound recordists, with photographs and written stories that illustrate the interesting -- and in some cases, truly amazing -- abilities of birds. Some of the shows are Pacific Northwest-oriented, but many are of general interest. BirdNote can be heard live, Monday through Friday, 8:58-9:00AM in Western Washington state and Southern British Columbia on KPLU radio and now also in North Central Washington state on KOHO radio. All episodes are available in the BirdNote archives, both in written transcript and mp3 formats, along with photographs. [mp3/podcast].

Miscellaneous Birds:

Seattle is experiencing a bird problem. Nona Raybern thought she’d lucked out a couple of weeks ago when she found a parking spot on Fourth Avenue just a half block from the Starbucks at Westlake Center, where she works as a barista. But, like all good things that happen in a person’s life, this parking space came with a price. At precisely 5 pm, about 200 small black European Starlings, Sturnus vulgaris (pictured), that had been circling over Macy's, landed in the trees, filling the air with the sound of chirps and the pings of poop hitting windshields. Raybern later discovered her mistake. “I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I just got inside [my car] in disbelief. On the drive home, everyone was staring and pointing. I had to run it through the car wash twice, so it ended up costing me $25,” Raybern complained. The starling problem has been worse in some cities in the Midwest and the East Coast, “where they've suffered an invasion numbering in the millions,” said Roy Francis, the city's manager of urban forestry. Some have poisoned the birds; others have played loud noises and hung colorful streamers in the trees to mimic predators. Nothing has worked. But other people are philosophical. For Brahim Mahdoubi, bird poop is the price to pay for living in a city intertwined with nature. He parked his black Mercedes under a tree with about 50 birds perched in it, knowing what he’d find when he came back. When questioned about this, he shrugged, looked up at the tree and said: “Look at all the birds. How lucky are we to see that beauty?” But there is a bright spot in all this. More people are taking the bus to work.

Isn’t it interesting how birds lose when corporate profits are threatened? For example, when a Washington state board gathered this week to pretend how to best protect endangered spotted owls, Strix occidentalis caurina (pictured), the man in charge was a Department of Natural Resources official who had privately met with timber industry executives and promised to soften proposed regulations. An internal timber industry memorandum obtained by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer outlines how Pat McElroy, chairman of the Forest Practices Board, agreed to eliminate a key DNR staff recommendation to be considered today. The memo also suggests that McElroy had planned to alter his agency’s recommendations without telling others involved in the talks, such as environmentalists and tribal leaders. “This just shows how stacked the deck is against a credible public process,” said Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center, which represents environmentalists in timber lawsuits. “We've been working for two years to convince them what they need to do to protect owls. This is what the DNR staff came up with, and it almost went into the trash.” GrrlScientist observes; In view of shenanigans like this, how can any sane and rational corporate droid not understand that the public is fully justified in their mistrust of corporations when environmental issues or endangered species are at stake?

Okay, this week has made me feel really cranky, so I had to cheer myself by ending this issue of Birds in the News with a humorous birds-in-clothing story. Incredibly, this story is true. According to this news story, a 35-year-old woman near Fort Myers was charged this month with stealing a Greenwing Macaw, Ara chloroptera (pictured at top), from a bird farm by hiding the bird in her bra. How on earth did she do this? “When you got a thousand birds, it’s hard to keep track of all of them,” said Hobbs Guenther, the owner of Baby Exotic Birds. The suspect, Jill Knispel, 35, of Englewood, Florida, was employed as a bird feeder at Guenther’s farm when she made off with the rare parrot, which can grow to a height of 4 feet. That seems like a lot of bird to stuff in a bra, even by today’s augmentation standards. “She didn't take it when it was full grown,” Guenther said. “It was just a baby. Only about two inches.” Apparently, Knispel’s mouth also runneth over, otherwise, Guenther might have never known. After Knispel stole the bird, raised it, and traded it for a Karmann Ghia car, she then, being a genius, blabbed about it to a woman who happened to be Guenther’s former girlfriend. Ooops.

Thanks to my bird pals; Jamie, Caren, Mary, Eddie, Pat, Debi, Fred, Ellen and Ron for some of the links you are enjoying here. Thanks also to Devery for financial support for Birds in the News.

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Survival Job applications: 4 (shotgun method, again. I actually have no idea if any adjunct positions exist at any of these schools)

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Carnival of the Vanities is available!

Nov 16 2005 Published by under Uncategorized

I am having major problems with Blogger STILL, so hopefully this message will be published instead of disappearing somewhere in the big "out there" (Grrrrr!).

I just found out that the latest issue, #164, of the Carnival of the Vanities was posted today at Dr. Charles' Examining Room, and my island birds essay was included!

This is the first time I've ever contributed anything to the Carnival of the Vanities, although, as I understand it, this carnival is the "grand dame" of blog carnivals, the one that started the whole blog carnival scene. This particular blog carnival specializes in linking to the very best blog writing within the past week, so definitely stop by to read the hottest and newest blog essays!

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