Stories tagged birds

Jan
24
2007

Waterbirds worldwide are in decline.: Long-billed curlew. Photo US Fish & Wildlife Service
Waterbirds worldwide are in decline.: Long-billed curlew. Photo US Fish & Wildlife Service

Scientists report that over 40% of the world’s waterbirds are declining in population. The problem is most severe in Asia, though all continents are suffering losses.

The problem is habitat. Some of the richest ecosystems are “edge habitats,” where one type of environment meets another – like, where the sea meets the shore. However, a whopping 2/3rds of the world’s human population lives near the sea shore. As our population grows, more of this habitat is developed for human use, leaving less for birds and other wildlife.

Jan
16
2007

Bird brain: A large-brained raven has a better chance of survival than a small-brained bird of the same size. Photo Bureau of Land Management.
Bird brain: A large-brained raven has a better chance of survival than a small-brained bird of the same size. Photo Bureau of Land Management.

A scientific paper published in England reports that birds with bigger brains have higher survival rates than do small-brained species. A team of scientists studied birds and determined which ones had the largest brains, relative to their body size. They then collected data on birds in the wild, and found that a large-brained bird had a better chance of surviving year-to-year than a small-brained bird of the same body size.

Scientists attribute this to the large-brained birds being better able to modify their behavior in response to a change in the environment.

A big brain can be a disadvantage early in a bird’s life cycle. Big brains require a lot of energy to grow, and a lot of time to develop. But once the bird matures, a bigger brain helps them survive.

A bright yellow and red-crowned Yariguies brush-finch has been discovered in Columbia's Andean cloud forest.

Jul
28
2006

A University of Iowa researcher, Dr. James Gill, has just shown that people can catch a non-threatening kind of bird flu (NOT the H5N1 strain) from wild birds.


Duck hunter's dog: (Photo by Blaine Hansel)

Gill tested blood from 39 duck hunters for antibodies that would prove infection by any of a dozen kinds of bird-based influenza. Several hunters had antibodies to H1, H2, and H3 strains, which have adapted to humans and are now routinely seen in people. But one hunter tested positive for H11N9, which is not seen in humans.

The hunter was a healthy, 39-year-old man who'd been hunting since he was 8 and kills or handles hundreds of birds a year. He'd never shown any symptoms of illness.

Also, Gill found H11N9 antibodies in the blood of two Iowa Department of Natural Resources workers. Both had been banding ducks for years.

None of the infected men had any history of working with domesticated birds--an established source of bird flu transmission to humans. Instead, these cases appear to be the first documented of humans getting viruses from wild birds.

Jul
21
2006

We've had mourning doves nesting in our backyard evergreen trees all summer.

Mourning dove: You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)
Mourning dove: You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)

They're good parents--far more attentive than the human ones who share the space! They lay two eggs at a time, and almost never leave them alone. The male usually incubates from midmorning until late afternoon, and the female tends them the rest of the time. (Warning: gross fact ahead!) Mourning doves of both sexes feed their hatchlings something called "pigeon milk"--a substance that oozes from the lining of the parent's crop and contains more protein and fat than either human or cow's milk. Hatchlings eat nothing but pigeon milk until they're three days old; after that, they're gradually weaned onto a diet of seeds. The parents continue to feed the hatchlings until they're totally feathered out.

The crazy part is that mourning doves can produce five or six sets of chicks each year. (This may be one reason why mourning doves are among the ten most abundant birds in the US...) If things at the first nest are going well, the parents will build a second one nearby. One adult feeds the older chicks, while the other sits on the new eggs. It's a baby bird factory!

Right now, we have a couple of newly-fledged doves running around on the ground. I think the parents are still feeding them occasionally. And there's a new set of hungry hatchlings to feed, too. Makes me feel lazy for complaining about keeping up with my two little ones!

Listen to a mourning dove

More on mourning doves

Even more on mourning doves

Mourning doves are related to pigeons. Here's a great article on why you never see baby pigeons.

Jun
29
2006

Whooping Cranes: Whooping cranes.  Photo courtesy Hedgeman.
Whooping Cranes: Whooping cranes. Photo courtesy Hedgeman.

On June 22, two whooping crane chicks hatched at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. These are the first wild chicks that have hatched in the Midwest in over 100 years.

The two chicks are offspring of a pair of whooping cranes that are a part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), a collaboration of non-profit organizations, individuals and government agencies whose goal is to bring a migratory flock of whooping cranes back to eastern North America. The hatching of these two chicks is a major milestone in this effort.

Whooping Crane Migration

Operation Migration teaches a migratory route to endangered birds. To do so, they raise young whooping cranes in isolation, which then fledge over their future breeding territory in Wisconsin. When the time comes to migrate, they follow an ultralight aircraft from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Once they have learned the migratory route they migrate on their own the following year.

Whooping Cranes Migrating: Because of Operation Migration whooping cranes can make the migratory flights south in the fall and north in the spring on their own.  Photo courtesy thelastminute.
Whooping Cranes Migrating: Because of Operation Migration whooping cranes can make the migratory flights south in the fall and north in the spring on their own. Photo courtesy thelastminute.
Reintroduction of an endangered species

Wild whooping cranes are an endangered species that before this project only existed in the wild in two flocks. One is a non-migratory flock in Florida and the other is a migratory flock that summers in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. The National Audubon Society's 2006 list of the top ten endangered birds in the United States lists the whooping crane third behind the ivory-billed woodpecker and California condor.

Due to the risk of both of the natural flocks being wiped out by a single event such as a hurricane, an additional, experimental, flock of whooping cranes was established in the fall 2001. 64 of the 76 birds released for this experimental migratory flock have survived to April, 2006.

And now we can add two more to that population count.

Jun
21
2006

Female Red Winged Blackbird: Red-Winged Blackbird (female) -- Hillman Marsh (near Point Pelee), Canada -- 2006 May.  Image courtesy Mdf.
Female Red Winged Blackbird: Red-Winged Blackbird (female) -- Hillman Marsh (near Point Pelee), Canada -- 2006 May. Image courtesy Mdf.
Q: What is a red-winged blackbird?

A: Red-winged blackbirds are a type of bird found in most of North and Central America. It is primarily a marsh bird and they are usually smaller than robins. The male’s red shoulder patches are what gives the bird its name. Although, by looking at these pictures, I think the female is the cooler looking bird. You can learn more about red winged blackbirds (and hear their songs/calls) here.Male Red Winged Blackbird: Red-winged Blackbird, male, Bluffer's Park (Toronto, Canada), 2005.  Image courtesy Mdf.
Male Red Winged Blackbird: Red-winged Blackbird, male, Bluffer's Park (Toronto, Canada), 2005. Image courtesy Mdf.

When searching for this answer I read up on red-winged blackbirds on Wikipedia. The images here are from that article. Interestingly, the photographer (Mdf) who took these pictures is on a mission to, “replace the barely adequate images of birds from the USFWS (and from other US Government agencies) with higher resolution, (hopefully) higher quality versions.” His images are impressive. This really has nothing to do with the question, but I thought it was cool, and worth mentioning.

Q: How do clouds form?

A: There are a lot of web resources about this, which I am going to defer to for this one – check out the “simple” answer at weatherquestions.com or read the article on clouds in Wikipedia.

Q: Why is blood red? Is it always red?

A: Iron atoms in our blood interact with oxygen to give our blood it’s red color. But not all blood is red! Horseshoe crabs have blue blood (due to the oxygen interacting with the copper in their blood), while most insects have clear blood as their “blood” is not involved in the transportation of oxygen.

Q: How long ago was this museum built?

A: The Science Museum’s current facility was opened in December 1999. The Science Museum was founded in 1907 as the St. Paul Academy of Arts and Letters, so we’re quickly approaching our 100th birthday!

Yesterday, scientists in Alaska started testing migratory birds for signs of the H5N1 avian flu. For more information on avian flu, check out our online feature.