Archive for the 'Ornithology' category

Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air

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We all have preconceived ideas about what hummingbirds' lives are like, but so much of their world is imperceptible to the human eye. Filmmaker Ann Prum describes the breakthrough science and latest technologies that allowed her and the crew to reveal incredible new insights about these aerial athletes.

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New Species of Giant Flightless Bird Described in NYC

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Years ago, when Zoologist Mike Dickison was in the early stages of his PhD, he gave a joke presentation at a graduate student conference on the taxonomy and evolution of a giant flightless bird. It was the sort of thing you'd see at any conference on avian evolution: a Latin name, reconstructed skeleton, possible place on the great evolutionary tree of birds. The tone was completely serious, despite the subject matter -- the sort of thing that might be found in the Journal of Irreproducible Results back when it was funny.
Then, in the storage cabinets of the Berlin Museum of Natural History one summer's day, Dickison opened a drawer and had a revelation -- an original scientific insight that he is now sharing with the world: he realised what kind of bird he was working with, and figured out something of its evolutionary history.
Dr Dickison's astonishing findings were presented and recorded at the Christchurch PechaKucha #8 in May, and now the audio and (more-or-less) synchronised slides have been uploaded. (A pecha-kucha is a talk in which 20 slides play for exactly 20 seconds each, and the speaker tries to keep up.) All the science is real, and no birds were harmed in the course of this research.

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Are Zombie Vultures In Our Future?

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Only thirty years ago, tens of millions of White-rumped Vultures, Gyps bengalensis,
were flying the skies of Asia. They are now classified as Critically Endangered.
Image: Marek Jobda / rarebirdsyearbook.com [larger view]

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

A zombie is another name for The Walking Dead -- those who are lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment. But in an ecological sense, a zombie species no longer fulfills its ecological function because it is becoming extinct. This is a topic that I hope to explore further in another blog entry, but for now, today's zombie theme and vultures' delightful dining habits (they eat zombies) and my zombie icon have inspired me to focus on them.

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Distressed Ravens Show That Empathy Is For The Birds, Too

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Common Raven, Corvus corax, showing off at Bryce Canyon National Park, USA.
Image: United States National Park Service (Public Domain) [larger view]

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

Humans have long tried to distinguish themselves from other animals on the basis of characters that are perceived to be unique, such as tool design and use, planning for the future and the seemingly "human" capacity for empathy. But one by one, these "unique" characters are found to be shared with other animals. For example, early research shows that making and using tools is shared with our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. Since we have a shared evolutionary ancestry, this is not terribly surprising. But when a distantly related animal, such as the New Caledonian Crow, Corvus moneduloides, demonstrates that they also are very capable tool-makers and users [DOI: 10.1126/science.1073433], evolutionary biologists sat up and took note. As if that wasn't enough, once again, another feature of human "uniqueness" is being called into question because new research has documented what many bird watchers have known for decades; ravens apparently console their friends after an aggressive conflict with a flockmate.

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Australian Aboriginal Rock Art May Depict Giant Bird Extinct for 40,000 Years

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Australia's oldest painting?
A red ochre rock art depiction of two emu-like birds (Genyornis newtoni?)
with their necks outstretched.
Image: Ben Gunn [larger view]

An Australian Aboriginal rock art may depict a giant bird that is thought to have become extinct some 40,000 years ago, thereby making it the oldest rock painting on the island continent. The red ochre drawing was first discovered two years ago, but archaeologists were only able to confirm the finding two weeks ago, when they first visited the remote site on the Arnhem Land plateau in north Australia.

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Mystery Bird: American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana

May 07 2010 Published by under Birding, Education, Mystery Birds, Ornithology, Teaching

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[Mystery bird] American Avocet, also known as the Blueshank, Recurvirostra americana, photographed at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, Houston, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]
Image: Joseph Kennedy, 6 June 2007 [larger view].
Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/640s f/8.0 at 500.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

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Bird House

May 01 2010 Published by under Brain & Behavior, Ornithology, Streaming videos

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This hilarious video shows up a glimpse of life from a canary's point of view. The skill of the animal trainer is apparent, and I am astonished at the attention to detail in this commercial.

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Mystery Bird: Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

Apr 23 2010 Published by under Birding, Education, Mystery Birds, Ornithology

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[Mystery bird] Great Horned Owl, also known as the Tiger Owl, Bubo virginianus, photographed on the roadside in the Edinburg, Texas in The Lower Rio Grande Valley. This valley occurs at the boundary between the United States and Mexico. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]
Image: ©JRCompton.com/birds: JR Compton, 2008. I encourage you to purchase photographs from this photographer. [larger view].

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

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Watch a National Geographic Bird Illustrator at Work

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See harlequin ducks come alive on paper in this time-lapse video featuring National Geographic bird expert and illustrator Jonathan Alderfer.

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What do Great Tits Reveal about the Genetics of Personality?

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Bold or cautious? Individuals with a particular gene variant are very curious --
but only in some populations.
Image: Henk Dikkers.

Research suggests that personality variations are heritable in humans and other animal species, and there are many hypotheses as to why differences in personality exist and are maintained. One approach for investigating the heritability of personality lies in identifying which genes underlie specific personality traits so scientists can then determine how the frequencies of specific variants of personality-related genes change in both space and time as well as in relation to changing environmental influences.

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