Stories tagged birds

Spring is springing, and birds are nesting, and you can be a part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch project. They provide the training. You can observe natural nest sites or nest boxes, and your observations get permanently archived in North America's largest breeding bird database. The data collected helps scientists better understand threats to bird species. Pretty cool.

Mar
30
2008

So cute. So shnuggly. So lethal.: Jax, the mighty hunter, eyes some tasty birdies from his window perch.
So cute. So shnuggly. So lethal.: Jax, the mighty hunter, eyes some tasty birdies from his window perch.Courtesy Gene

As spring approaches (no, really, it is coming! You've got to believe!), house cats everywhere are sniffing at the fresh air coming in under the door, and are just itching to get outside. However, a politician in Boulder, Colorado is trying to pass a law that would require pet owners to keep their cats inside. It may sound funny – or like an unnecessary government intrusion into citizens’ lives—but outdoor cats are a big problem for wildlife. According to the American Bird Conservancy There are some 77 million house cats in America, and a similar number of feral cats. Each year, they kill hundreds of millions of birds, and perhaps a billion small mammals. Many of the prey species are threatened or endangered.

If you own a cat, keep it inside! Or invest in an enclosure so it can enjoy the outdoors without menacing the local wildlife.

Mar
16
2008

The early bird: and its nemesis: the early worm.
The early bird: and its nemesis: the early worm.Courtesy Vicki & Chuck Rogers- Best Friends
Careful observation has once again made fools of us. I always knew this would happen, but had previously assumed that it would have something to do with someone finally noticing the things I do when I think no one is watching. (And why shouldn’t I take sandwiches from the trash?)

No, in this particular case, science has shown that common knowledge isn’t always right, and that early birds do not necessarily get the worm.

“The worm” here is a metaphor for life.

Everyone knows, of course, that the early bird gets the worm. That is to say, whoever gets up first earns the right to finish off the donuts, and which ever animal is born before its siblings will be stronger and better able to compete for food (and what have you) that its good for nothing slowpoke brothers and sisters. These “late birds” lose the head start at life, and have a more difficult time catching up, if they ever do.

Recently, however, biologists at the University of North Carolina have found this little bit of wisdom to be less than entirely wise. This is not to say that early-hatching birds have lost any sort of advantage--they continue to steal worms from their younger siblings. No, early hatchers remain true to the saying, but eggs that are laid first have been found to have a significantly decreased chance of hatching at all. It seems that after laying her first egg, bird mothers aren’t all that concerned yet with settling down and incubating the little sucker. Therefore, its chances of survival take quite a dip.

What’s more, it may be that the reasons for this have to do with the fact that early (hatching) birds do tend to get the worms: if mother birds were to incubate their first egg before the rest were laid, that early hatching bird would out compete its siblings, and probably decrease the total bird output.

It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? I compared it to my own experiences as a lifelong late bird--I was born last, am rarely early in general, and I kind of hate worms (they taste like slimy dirt. Seriously)--and it made me a little wistful for similar behavior in humans. If only my mother would have spent more time foraging and flying around in my older brother’s incubating days, things probably would have gone much better for me. There would have been more presents for me at holidays, I could have grown into a more robust physique (like the brother did), and I would have gotten the top bunk. I would have gotten the worm, if you will. If only...

Jan
15
2008

A wizard and his moa skeleton: Oh, the adventures they have together.
A wizard and his moa skeleton: Oh, the adventures they have together.Courtesy wikimedia commons
But, then again, some people think a lot of things.

And, just to be clear here, we aren’t talking about the giant mall thing in Bloomington. We’re talking about the giant extinct bird thing in New Zealand.

The Moa were, in fact, the most giant of bird things, with some species reaching 12 or 13 feet in height. All species (scientists think that there were about 15) were entirely flightless. They are thought to have survived up until around 1500, before being hunted to extinction. According to some (most).

It would be awfully difficult, you’d think, to miss a bunch of 13-foot-tall birds strolling around the island. Yet some cryptozoologists persistently claim that a population of moa remains on New Zealand, and recent photos taken in Fiorland, New Zealand, supposedly showing new moa foot prints and a “1.8 m-plus tall bird” have got them all excited again.

Unfortunately, the photos were sold for $350 dollars on the internet, and have not been released.

I don’t knoa about this one…

Dec
13
2007

The Science Museum is hosting a distinguished visitor this week, one whom most of us may not meet in a lifetime in Minnesota. On Monday, December 10th, a bird called a Townsend's Solitaire appeared, feeding on the blue cones (not berries) of the red cedar (or Juniper) trees outside the P1 level of the parking ramp. It has since favored the Big Back Yard, where it suns itself on some of the structures and bordering fence and shrubbery.

Townsend's Solitaire: If you're walking past the Science Museum this week (on the Big Back Yard side), keep your eyes open for this guy.
Townsend's Solitaire: If you're walking past the Science Museum this week (on the Big Back Yard side), keep your eyes open for this guy.Courtesy Adele Binning

A resident of the western mountains from Alaska to New Mexico, and east to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Solitaire is a very rare migrant and winter visitor in Minnesota. Although recorded at widespread locations across the state, it appears only as an occasional individual in unpredictable fashion.

True to its name, the Solitaire is a lover of solitude and its bold, clear, ringing song wonderfully symbolizes its wilderness surroundings. This member of the thrush family somewhat resembles a miniature mockingbird in color and many markings, but is closer to the size of a slender bluebird--about eight inches in length.

How long this guest will stay with us remains to be seen...

Identification tips for the Townsend's Solitaire
Wikipedia entry

I mean, really -- what more do you need to know?

Basically, dinosaurs had a very efficient respiratory system, similar in many respects to that of diving birds, who must make the most of each breath. This provides yet more evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Sep
18
2007

Look, all I want is a baby bird to eat now and again: Is that too much to ask?  (photo by challiyan on flickr.com)
Look, all I want is a baby bird to eat now and again: Is that too much to ask? (photo by challiyan on flickr.com)
Really, funny is the wrong word. More like… “delightfully appropriate,” maybe. News that“fire ants eat baby songbirds is like finding out that piranhas love the taste of puppies, that killer bees particularly hate your grandparents, or that (insert childhood fear here) wants to kill (insert cute and utterly harmless thing here).

I guess it’s not all that ironic, because, really, what else do you expect fire ants to do?

Anyhow, a recently completed study at Texas A&M University seems to indicate that as many as a fifth of baby songbirds are killed by fire ants before they leave the nest. If you’re a baby bird (you probably aren’t, but if you were) your chances for survival aren’t all that wonderful in the first place (about 30%), but if you live in fire ant territory, things are even worse.

Although it wasn’t ever mentioned in the Disney song, fire ants eating baby birds is all part of the circle of life, and there probably isn’t much to be done about it in general. In certain cases, however, the research could assist management practices for endangered and threatened bird species – by treating the branches of known nesting sites with a pesticide, some baby birds can be saved from death by fire ant, and therefore have that much better of a chance of surviving to adulthood.

So, my mom pointed out something cool to me today. The Star Tribune posts recordings of bird songs on a free (if you live in the Twin Cities) phone service. Learn more here. Neat.

Jun
11
2007

Wind farms produce clean energy, but some people consider them eyesores: Photo by fieldsbh at Flickr.com
Wind farms produce clean energy, but some people consider them eyesores: Photo by fieldsbh at Flickr.com

A new book, Cape Wind: Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound, tells the story of efforts to build wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod to provide clean, renewable energy for the state of Massachusetts. However, some of the wealthy people who live in the area – including some renowned environmentalists – object to the project located so close to their own homes.

This article from the Cape Cod Times describes some of the legal maneuvering that has thus far blocked the project. One objection is that wind turbines kill migrating birds. The reporter did some research and came up with the following statistics:

Human-caused bird deaths

• Domestic cats: Hundreds of millions a year
• Striking high-tension lines: 130 million - 1 billion a year
• Striking buildings: 97 million to 976 million a year
• Cars: 80 million a year
• Toxic chemicals: 72 million
• Striking communications towers: 4 to 50 million a year
• Wind turbines: 20,000 to 37,000

Source: National Research Council

Clearly, turbines are not a major threat to birds, while the clean energy they provide would be a major boost to the environment. So why are some environmentalists opposed? The authors of the book say it’s because the turbines, several miles off the coast, would still be visible from their beach-front property. (It is also interesting to note that some of the anti-turbine legislation has been proposed by congressmen from states that just happen to produce a lot of coal.)

For an overview of the issue, read this article from The Boston Phoenix.

Visitors to the Science Museum will name some of the falcon chicks. (Haven't seen them? Stop by the Mississippi River Gallery: you can use a scope to see the nest box on the stack of the High Bridge power plant, and you can see a live video feed from inside the box.) Vote for your favorite name!