Stories tagged birds

The best part of your day: It's thinking about liquefying the insides of a bird.
The best part of your day: It's thinking about liquefying the insides of a bird.Courtesy Shreeg88
Things are looking up today, right?

Wrong! Look, a giant spider eating a bird!

The spider is a Golden Orb Weaver, and the bird is unlucky. It's known that larger specimens of orb weavers will occasionally eat birds, but it's very rare. So enjoy it.


A closer look at bird banding

I went to the "Fall Color Blast" at the Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center this afternoon. I arrived to watch the bird banding just as a large group was leaving. Since we were the only people there, we were able to watch a bird being banded up close. I used my camera to capture it on video.

If you want to view the video in higher quality double click on the video and choose "watch in high quality" (below the video). You can also choose to watch it full screen by clicking on the icon in the lower right.


Cow pointing north: Maybe THIS is why you always see animals on weather vanes
Cow pointing north: Maybe THIS is why you always see animals on weather vanesCourtesy Leo Reynolds
Researchers in Germany used Google Earth to examine hundreds of aerial images of cattle herds at rest and found that 2 out of 3 cows tended to align their bodies north-south. It seems that no one has really ever noticed this before, which is a little shocking. On the other hand it's nice to know that science still has some basic observations left to be made.

At first I was a bit skeptical. As a kid I'd heard that you could tell if it was going to rain depending on whether cows were laying down or not, which is a silly tale for maybe this was a similar situation? How would cows sense the Earth's magnetic field anyways? Actually, lots of animals can sense the earth's magnetic field:

Most of this research is still under-way and new discoveries may give us different explanations about how animals sense the Earth's magnetic field. Yet, it is certain that all varieties of creatures, cows included, seem to be able to sense the Earth's weak yet significant magnetic field.

What about you? Can you feel North?


A gull bomber: See? They're gross. Gross and bad.
A gull bomber: See? They're gross. Gross and bad.Courtesy Sanchezn
That’s right, Buzzketeers, you heard it here first: Scotland has declared war.

Muskets are being cleaned, shakos brushed, wigs powdered, kilts pleated…

And who or what is this war on? England? No, Braveheart settled that one with an academy award. Personal hygiene? I’m afraid that war was lost centuries ago. Drugs? Maybe, but Trainspotting was so much fun.

So what’s left?

Birds, y’all, birds. Scotland has finally declared war on the birds. Actual birds. I don’t mean, like, a cockney version of national misogyny. Seagulls, in fact, are the targets here.

Why? Why ask why, I say. Have you ever seen or heard a seagull and not wanted to destroy it and all of its ilk? That, by the way, is a rhetorical question.

Scotland has drafted a more formal—though only just—list of complaints against the bird nation: they thrive on litter, and their aggressive behavior towards humans and other animals is increasing. They are, in short, “a menace.”

The Environmental Minister even whipped out the story of a paper delivery boy (called a Scottish Flat-hat Lad, I believe), who has had to abandon his duties for fear of bird attack. Wars have been started over less.

The initial campaign will kick off in the southwestern town of Dumfries, Scotland, during the gulls breeding season. The Scots are clearly taking seriously the old saying “Hit ‘em where it hurts” (the genitals). Anti-gull task forces are being formed to destroy nests and drive the birds off. It’s going to be like a Scottish Starship Troopers.

There may be another solution here—this article points out that the gull population of Britain began rising sharply and steadily after the introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1956. It isn’t that gulls thrive in clean air (they probably hate it, rats that they are), but that the act prohibited the burning of garbage by local landfill owners, giving the horrible birds all the delicious trash they could ever hope to eat.

So Scotland needs to start firing up those landfills! Sure, it’s dirty, but we need to consider the perils of off-balancing animal populations. Just look at zebra mussels and, like… zebras. Get out your bagpipes and claymores! Fill the sky with the greasy black smoke of victory!


Problem pigeon: John McCain, I've got that bald spot on the top of your head targeted for one of my droppings.
Problem pigeon: John McCain, I've got that bald spot on the top of your head targeted for one of my droppings.Courtesy Josh215
Aboout a year ago, the Buzz brought you news that St. Paul city officials were taking steps to reduce (with the ultimate goal of eliminating) the pigeon population in downtown. The thought was, with the Republican National Convention coming, the city didn't want out-of-towners having to watch their step on the sidewalks for messy pigeon droppings.

As a regular pedestrian through downtown, I can attest that the year's worth of efforts haven't made much of a difference. There are plenty of pigeons, and their droppings, still around downtown. Unless we host a massive falcon-hawk-eagle convention in the next week, the GOP is going to have to be on the lookout for pigeon GOOP.

None the less, St. Paul officials are cranking up their efforts to reduce the pigeon population. While earlier efforts focused on building delux nesting sites for the birds, and the confiscation of their eggs after they were laid, they've turned to pigeon birth control methods. Read all about it here in this Star-Tribune interview with the city's animal control officer. That all begs the question, were do you get pigeon condoms?

I just downloaded the Raptor Resource 2008 Project Banding Report (how's that for a little light reading?), and I found the following:

"We removed the High Bridge stack nest box after the 2007 nesting season. Xcel Energy was converting from a coal facility to natural gas turbine operation, and planned to raze the stack some time in early 2008. We installed a replacement nest box on the nearby ADM stackhouse, but it appears that the falcons chose to nest under the nearby High Bridge instead."

All spring we watched and waited, and the birds were there all along! I'll get in touch with the folks at Xcel and Raptor Resource and see what we can do about watching the peregrines during the 2009 nesting season.


Guess what song they're singing: That's right—Love will tear us apart, by Joy Division.
Guess what song they're singing: That's right—Love will tear us apart, by Joy Division.Courtesy jcmurty
Look! A two-birded bird! I mean, a four-winged twobody! Or a three-legged egg.

Anyhoo, conjoined twin birds were found (alive) in Arkansas recently, something so frighteningly unlikely that nature quickly decided to put an end to it to make the world a simpler place. The birds—a pair of barn swallows—were joined at the hip, and fell out of their nest as a healthy sibling left to learn how to hunt. It appeared at first that the birds had only three legs, but more careful examination revealed a secret fourth leg, tucked up under the skin, presumably for a special occasion that never arrived.

The person who found the tiny dragon kept it for a day before calling the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Unfortunately, one of the birds, or one half of the bird-thing, died shortly after wildlife officials arrived, and a veterinarian euthanized the other before it could die of sadness.

The details of the euthanization were not made clear in the article. I assume a rifle was involved.


Chill out kid: You're in the presence of great minds.
Chill out kid: You're in the presence of great minds.Courtesy Mario Sepulveda
Get your lists out, Buzzketeers.

No, get ‘em out!

Or, you know, just sit there with your lists put away. Good job. You’re good at that.

Those of you who care about science, and have your lists out, thank you. And you may now add pigeons>babies to your “What is smarter that what” list. About time, huh?

I understand that intelligence is a tricky thing to measure, and we should acknowledge that there are several things that babies can do better than pigeons. Crying, throwing up, and pooping, for instance, babies are clearly more skilled at. But when it comes to self-cognitive abilities—something long considered exclusive to primates and large-brained animals like dolphins and elephants—pigeons take the cake. They take it away from babies.

Researchers in Japan have shown that pigeons can discriminate video images of themselves with as much as a 5-7 second delay, while 3 year old children have difficulty recognizing themselves after only a 2 second delay. Pretty embarrassing for the earth’s toddlers, if you ask me—3 years is pretty old to have trouble recognizing Number One.

I don’t totally understand the methodology behind telling whether a pigeon (or a baby, for that matter) can recognize itself, but the article gave some other interesting/hilarious examples of self-cognition tests.

Similar test have been performed on chimps by drawing on their faces when they were sleeping (drugged). Upon waking, the chimps were given mirrors to see how they felt about their new decorations. This experiment is frequently carried out on drunk humans as well (I tried to find a good picture of this, but they all seem to include a drawing of…a particular body part).

Researchers at Harvard University have shown that pigeons can discriminate pictures of people, and a laboratory in Japan claims that they can even distinguish between the works of certain painters.

Pigeons were also shown to be able to tell the difference between birds given stimulant drugs and sober pigeons. No word as to whether they’ll be trying that particular experiment on babies.

Really, I think that says it all.


Oh my! Researchers in Virginia have found high levels of mercury in local songbirds. The birds live near a contaminated river, but do not eat any fish or other water creatures that might be contaminated. So, how did they get mercury inside of them?

Turns out the birds ate lots of spiders. And spiders are scavengers who’ll eat pretty much anything. Mercury from the environment accumulates in them, and gets passed along to the birds.

The next question is – how do the land-dwelling spiders get water-borne mercury inside of them?