What Do the Birders Know?

This is a good read about the value of citizen science:


By BRIAN KIMBERLING, published in the New York Times, April 19 2013.

A BIRD-WATCHER is a kind of pious predator. To see a new bird is to capture it, metaphorically, and a rare bird or an F.O.Y. (First of the Year, for the uninitiated) is a kind of trophy. A list of birds seen on a given day is also a form of prayer, a thanksgiving for being alive at a certain time and place. Posting that list online is a 21st-century form of a votive offering. It’s unclear what deity presides.

There was prestige in knowing birds in ancient Rome, and there is prestige today. There are also competitive insect enthusiasts and tree connoisseurs and fungus aficionados, but they lack the cultural stature and sheer numbers of bird-watchers. There are 5.8 million bird-watchers in the United States, slightly more than the number of Americans in book clubs or residents of Wisconsin. That’s a huge army of primitive hunter-mystics decked out in sturdy hiking boots and nylon rain gear, consulting their smartphones to identify or imitate a particular quarry.

Read more here.

Global bird news: 5 March 2010

by Doug JansonA bird tour in Gambia (a humorous account from a novice birding spouse)

“It’s more than 40C (104F) and I’m not in charge of anything. I’m ducking from one inadequate scrap of bushy shade to the next behind a straggle of sweating binoculared figures chasing Hassan, our local bird guide. Hassan runs marathons in the Gambian sun.” [Telegraph]

Sage GrouseSage Grouse under pressure (great Sage Grouse lekking video)

For those with slow internet connections I suggest playing the video then pausing it immediately. Wait for it to load completely (wait for the red line to reach the end) and then play it. [Oregonlive]

Global birding news: 25 February 2010


Birdwatching reducedBirding big year in the US

“It’s a Big Year for Dr. John Spahr, a pathologist who retired from Augusta Health last year, and he’s spending 2010 doing one of his favorite things: birding. “They’re colorful. They fly. They’re just fascinating,” said Spahr, who explains that birding is more than casually watching for birds than traveling just to see, identify and record them. “[newsleader]

Bird flockiPhone application tracks bird migration in US

“As the snowbanks begin to recede, it is possible to look with hope for signs of spring. The first harbinger in the Mid-Atlantic would be the return of the Purple Martins, which, like retirees, head south before winter strikes. To follow the Martins’ progress returning north, I turn to BirdsEye, a relatively expensive iPhone app that takes a different approach to bird watching than most ornithological applications.” [New York Times]

New forest reducedForest fragmentation forces birds to evolve

“A new study that draws on more than 100 years of archived bird specimens reveals that forest fragmentation is causing rapid evolution in North American songbirds, according to MSNBC.” [mother nature network]

Black-tailed Godwit reducedDevelopment threatens Hong Kong bird migration stop-over

“Tens of thousands of birds, including rare and endangered species, flock each year to an unlikely haven sandwiched between high-rise Hong Kong and Shenzhen, the towering frontier of mainland China.But conservationists say this haven on the “East Asian-Australasian flyway” — one of the world’s main migratory routes — is in danger of breaking up, as government and construction companies eye valuable land for development. “[MySinchew]

Photographs from the back of a Black-browed Albatross

They’re now strapping cameras to the backs of Black-browed Albatrosses. Check out the results below from Birdlife International:

Find more photos like this on BirdLife International

Global bird news: 15 October 2009


Nest box sharing between species

Desperate measures for desperate times…?

“The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says it has received a surprising number of reports of different species sharing nest boxes. It says barn owl nest boxes attract the most unusual tenants, with reports of kestrels and jackdaws moving in.” [BBC]

Do some migratory species over-winter?

Professor Frank Lang answers a common questions regarding migratory species over-wintering.

“The consensus is that you might be a bit premature in your assumption that your feathered friends aren’t heading south for the winter, Mildred. Maybe they just haven’t left yet. Or it could be this is simply the first time you’ve seen them around this late, suggests Lang.” [Mail Tribune]

Skylark habitat threatened

It’s good that the development may be delayed, but why was this site even considered for development in the first place if it’s home to sensitive species? Environmental protection is generally far too reactive!

“John Ebrey who is a surveyor for the British Trust for Ornithology, says the work by Birmingham-based property developers St Modwen will destroy the skylark’s last remaining breeding site in the whole of the urban Black Country. He is calling on Dudley Council to prevent St Modwen from starting work on a new sports and social club until October 2010 to give the skylark another year of uninterrupted breeding.” [Express and Star]

International Vulture Awareness Day: 5 September 2009

Egyptian VultureThey certainly won’t win any beauty pageants, but vultures play a critical role in the ecosystems they inhabit. September 5th is International Vulture Awareness Day. Below is some more information:

Vultures are an ecologically vital group of birds that face a range of threats in many areas that they occur. Populations of many species are under pressure and some species are facing extinction.

The International Vulture Awareness Day has grown from Vulture Awareness Days run by the Birds of Prey Working Group in South Africa and the Hawk Conservancy Trust in England, who decided to work together and expand the initiative into an international event. It is now recognised that a co-ordinated international day will publicise the conservation of vultures to a wider audience and highlight the important work being carried out by the world’s vulture conservationists.

On September 5th 2009, the aim is for each participating organisation to carry out their own activities that highlight vulture conservation and awareness. This website, established in July 2009, provides a central place for all participants to outline these activities and see the extent of vulture conservation across the world. [more here]

You can find a list of organisations that are hosting Vulture Day events on the official website here. There are also some cracking vulture images here. Enjoy.

Global bird news: 14 August 2009

tring-specimens1Natural history museum at Tring robbed

The Bucks Herald

The Natural History Museum at Tring has been targeted by thieves who have stolen a number of bird ‘skins’ from the ornithological collections. They were found to be missing following a break-in on Wednesday June 24. The specimens stolen comprise a number of brightly-coloured tropical birds, some of which are uncommon in collections and, therefore, of special scientific concern. The Museum is working with the police and the Wildlife Crime Unit on the matter. Professor Richard Lane, Director of Science at the Natural History Museum, commented ‘The birds that were stolen formed part of the nation’s natural history collection, painstakingly assembled over the last 350 years. [more here]

masked-boobyExtinct booby rediscovered in laboratory

The Hindu News

London (IANS): A seabird thought to have been driven to extinction by hungry European sailors in the late 18th century has been rediscovered, in the laboratory. It turns out the ‘extinct’ species is actually a sub-species of a bird very much alive. Tammy Steeves, Marie Hale and Richard Holdaway are part of a team of scientists from across New Zealand and Australia who have used an innovative approach to resolve the taxonomic status of the “extinct” Tasman booby (Sula tasmani). It is the first study of its kind to report the rediscovery of an extinct bird using classical paleontological data combined with ancient and modern DNA data. [more here]

superb-fairy-wrenClimate change might be shrinking Australia’s birds


MELBOURNE – Australian birds have shrunk over the past century because of global warming, scientists have found. Using museum specimens, researchers measured the size of eight bird species and discovered they were getting smaller in an apparent response to climate change. Australian National University (ANU) biologist Janet Gardner said modern birds were up to four percent smaller than their forebears, a discrepancy she said was statistically significant. “Birds, like other animals, tend to be smaller in warmer climates, because smaller bodies lose heat more quickly than larger bodies,” she said. “As a result, individuals of the same species tend to be larger near the poles and smaller near the equator.” She said the study showed that modern birds in Sydney had shrunk to the same size as those previously found in sub-tropical Brisbane, some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) north and seven degrees of latitude closer to the equator. [more here]

Press Release: New population of Northern Shrike-tits discovered in Australia

Northern Shrike Tit by Trevor Colins

Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport (NRETAS) scientists and Yirralka Rangers have found a new population of the threatened bird species, the Northern Shrike-tit, during a recent survey of Laynhapuy Homelands in North-east Arnhem Land. NRETAS research scientist Dr Simon Ward said that it is an exciting find because these rare birds, listed nationally and in the Northern Territory as “vulnerable”, have never been recorded in the region before. “Northern Shrike-tits are small birds, thinly-spread and difficult to see, so we have only about 30 records for them, scattered across the Top End,” Dr Ward said. “Most recent sightings have been in the Katherine region, so it is excellent to find them in Northeast Arnhem Land.” [more here]

New “bald” bulbul species discovered in Laos

Bare-face Bulbul by Iain Woxvold/University of MelbourneThis is most bizarre. Not only has a new bird species to science been discovered, but it has a featherless head! Here’s an extract from the press release:

An odd songbird with a bald head living in a rugged region in Laos has been discovered by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Melbourne.  Dubbed the “Bare-faced Bulbul” because of the lack of feathers on its face and part of its head, it is the only example of a bald songbird in mainland Asia according to scientists. It is the first new species of bulbul – a family of about 130 species – described in Asia in over 100 years.A description of the new species is published in the July issue of the Oriental Bird Club’s journal Forktail. Authors include Iain Woxvold of the University of Melbourne, along with Wildlife Conservation Society researchers Will Duckworth and Rob Timmins. “It’s always exciting to discover a new species, but this one is especially unique because it is the only bald songbird in Asia,” said Colin Poole, director of Asia programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The discovery also underscores how much there is still to learn from wild places around the world.” [more here]

Global bird news: 24 July 2009

Toco Toucan by Thowra

Toco Toucan uses bill to keep cool

Science Now Daily News

When it comes to keeping cool, toucans get top billing in the animal world. New research shows that the colorful bird uses its massive beak to rapidly radiate away heat, allowing it to chill out in tropical climates or when expending a lot of energy while flying. At its most efficient, the toucan is theoretically capable of jettisoning 100% of its overall body heat loss through its bill. Birds don’t sweat. Neither do elephants or rabbits. Instead, these creatures flush an uninsulated body part–such as a beak or an ear–with blood and let the heat dissipate into the air. Glenn Tattersall, an evolutionary physiologist at Brock University in Canada, wanted to find out just how much of a cooling effect the toucan’s giant beak provided. [more here]

Bird nest by RexNoise pollution impacts birds’ nesting habits

The Hindu

Washington (IANS): A new study has come up with the strongest evidence yet that noise pollution negatively influences the nesting habits of birds. The study also indicates that at least a few species opt for noisy areas over quiet ones, perhaps because of their vocalisation pitches, a reduction in nest predators and less competition from other song birds that prefer quiet environments. [more here]

Biocolored Antbird by Matt DeresFemale antbirds try and rein their flirting partners in


Researchers from Oxford University discovered that warbling antbirds, which form lifelong partnerships in the tropical forests of South America where they are found, normally sing duets to mark their territory. But when single females in the area sing in an attempt to attract a mate, the paired females change the volume and pattern of their song so that it “jams” any response from their male partner. The males, however, which became excited when they heard the song of the lone female, responded by changing their songs to avoid this interference from their mates. The researchers believe their findings provide an insight into how animals have evolved duets and may even shed light on the origins of dance and music in humans. [more here]