Critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis disturbed

Northern Bald Ibis from Gesner's Historiæ animalium, book III, 1555With less than 500 individuals left in the wild, Northern Bald Ibis is in bad shape.  It’s quite disturbing when one reads messages like the one below where birders are disregarding the needs of these birds. These are excerpts of a message from the RSPB‘s Chris Bowden:

“I want to thank the 95+% of birders and bird tour leaders who visit southern Morocco each year and respect the importance of the last colony of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis, by searching for the birds away from the main breeding colony at Tamri. I am very much aware how much all visiting birders want to see Northern Bald Ibis when visiting the area, and realise it can be frustrating if the birds are not in the feeding areas exactly when arriving at the site, especially as visitors itineraries are often tightly packed.

So it is very disturbing when a minority of irresponsible visitors such as a recent group in early May (who we know from wardens records that the leader has previously ignored the well known request among all birders to avoid the colony), continue to approach the colony itself. This is particularly disappointing and embarrassing to the responsible birding community. The wardens are locally appointed and trained (one key tangible benefit of the ibis to the village communities closest to the colonies and roosts, and one which indirectly links and informs the locals of the importance of the ibis), and their priority role is to keep all visitors away from the site as well as systematically monitoring the breeding birds. This recent birding party of birders from England refused to accept the wardens request to leave and became abusive before photographing the birds anyway. Through their attitude they appear to condone others in approaching and jeopardising the largest remaining colony of this species in the world.”

In contrast to these negative events, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation has committed to supporting further research and conservation of the Northern Bald Ibis.  This is an excerpt from the Birdlife International website:

One of the rarest birds in North Africa and the Middle East has received a conservation boost from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. Once revered by the Egyptian Pharaohs, Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita has become extinct in the majority of its former range in North Africa, the European Alps and the Middle East, and is now listed as Critically Endangered the highest threat level of extinction. However, ongoing conservation efforts will now benefit from a three year grant from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. [more here]

Mount Mabu in Northern Mozambique to be protected

Mount Mabu from Google EarthIt’s fantastic that there are still areas that have not been explored by scientists. Mount Mabu in Northern Mozambique was one such area until a scientist from Kew Gardens located it using Google Earth. Expeditions to the massif have revealed several new species to science. It appears that Mozambique has agreed to protect the mountain because of these unique species and its relatively “untouched” status. Here’s some more information from The Guardian:

The unique lost rainforest of Mount Mabu is to be given protection from exploitation, following a new expedition to the remote area revealed a host of new species. The existence of the pristine forest in northern Mozambique was revealed by the Observer last year, and was originally discovered with the help of Google Earth. It is now thought to be the largest such forest in southern Africa. At a meeting this week in the capital Maputo, government ministers agreed to put conservation measures in place before any commercial logging occurs there after meeting representatives from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT), and numerous other groups involved in the project. [more here]

Namuli Apalis © Callan CohenMount Mabu is not the only isolated massif in Northern Mozambique that harbours interesting species. Mount Namuli, the regions highest mountain, is home to Namuli Apalis (Apalis lynesi) which is Mozambique’s only endemic bird species. Read an interesting account here about how this species was only recorded for the second time in 1998.

Global bird news: 29 June 2009

Sage Grouse

Obama administration stalling on Sage Grouse decision

The Seattle Times

Federal officials are again delaying a decision on whether to list Sage Grouse in 11 Western states as threatened or endangered, leaving in limbo until at least 2010 a spate of industries that face sweeping restrictions if the bird is protected.The chicken-sized grouse ranges from Montana to Arizona and California to Colorado, living alongside livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling and an increasing number of wind power turbines. Its population has been in decline for decades, but how many remain is unknown. For the Obama administration, the decision on Sage Grouse could force an uncomfortable choice. On one side are environmental groups that supported him as a candidate and want the grouse protected. On the other is a renewable energy industry much touted by the president but lately emerging as a potential threat to the bird’s habitat. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is well aware of the significance of this decision, because of its potential impact on a broad area and many activities within that broad area,” said Michael Bean, a senior adviser to Assistant Secretary of Interior Tom Strickland. [more here]

Niceforo's Wren from ProAves

Critically endangered Niceforo’s Wren given another chance


ProAves together with World Land Trust-US, American Bird Conservancy and the Corporación Autónoma de Santander (CAS) have taken a significant step forward in their efforts to protect the Critically Endangered Niceforo’s Wren – restricted to the last remnants of dry forest in the Chicamocha Valley of the eastern Andes of Colombia. The purchase by ProAves of over 3,200 acres of vital remaining dry forest habitat – some of the highest quality remaining forest of this type in the entire region – will result in the creation of a new reserve to protect the Niceforo’s Wren. It constitutes the first protected area within the Chicamocha Valley for these and many endemic flora and fauna species. [more here]

Global bird news: 22 June 2009

Wind Farm by Brian Robert Marshall

Radar used to avoid wind farm bird collisions

Miami Herald

“The two companies that run the first wind farms on the coast, Iberdrola Renewables of Spain and Babcock & Brown of Australia, recognized the risk bad weather could bring. Most migrating birds fly high above the range of turbines, many of them at night. But they don’t fly through clouds and storms, and when bad weather rolls in, migrating birds fly down to wait it out. The two companies voluntarily installed radar developed for the military and NASA to prevent collisions with birds by aircraft and the space shuttle. It’s the first time this radar has been used anywhere in the world to shut down wind turbines if a large number of birds is headed toward them. Conservationists said it’s a good step, but they’re still concerned that the companies haven’t given permission to outside groups to check for bird fatalities during the migration period in April and May. Legal efforts to block the wind farms on the coast failed last year, and the federal government and Texas, like most states, don’t regulate wind farms.” [more here]

Mute SwanWhy aren’t birds bigger?

Science Daily

“Why aren’t birds larger? Fifteen-kilogram swans hold the current upper size record for flying birds, although the extinct Argentavis of the Miocene Epoch in Argentina is estimated to have weighed 70 kilograms, the size of an average human. In a forthcoming article in PLoS Biology, Sievert Rohwer, and his colleagues at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington, provide evidence that maximum body size in birds is constrained by the amount of time it takes to replace the flight feathers during molt.” [more here]

ExxonExxon in the spotlight for harming birds

KSN News

“More environmental problems are coming to Exxon – this time in Kansas. The oil giant is facing criminal charges for unlawfully killing migratory birds in three Kansas counties. The federal charges stem from tanks and other facilities operated by Exxon or its agents in Kearney, Stevens and Morton counties in southwest Kansas. The complaint, filed in U.S District Court in Wichita Thursday, alleges the company killed “at least seven birds of inderminate species and three owls, which died after contact with hydrocarbons.” Hydrocarbons are often found in petroleum products and, according to Jim Mason with the Great Plains Nature Center, are extremely dangerous to birds. “It’s as bad for them as it would be for you or I if we drank raw petroleum,” Mason said. The complaint specifically alleges the company harmed three owls. Owls and other predatory birds are specifically protected under federal law, meaning it’s illegal to kill or even harm one. “[more here]

bird-flockWhat is causing bird population shifts?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Something is powerfully affecting the birds wintering in northern Alabama, increasing the numbers of many, bringing new species and causing others to dwindle. Scientists don’t know whether it’s climate change, a recovery from the banned pesticide DDT or some mystery factor. Since the 1960s, the numbers of the birds in the reservoirs and refuges in northern Alabama have almost flip-flopped. Almost every species’ numbers are either climbing steeply or dwindling. And other birds are appearing for the first time. Pelicans, terns and gulls by the thousands now winter north of Birmingham. “When I was a boy growing up in Decatur, a gull, a pelican — those were all seashore birds,” said Keith Hudson, the state’s nongame biologist for the northern half of Alabama. Now, the former beach birds spend the winter in the reservoirs of the Tennessee River or at Decatur’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. And they are joined by nearly every fish-eating bird or duck found in northern Alabama. Almost all are on the increase during the winter. On the other end of the food chain, the numbers of tiny seed-eating sparrows also are soaring. “[more here]

Canada Goose Copyrighted to Fcb981New York to cull Canada Geese

“The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and the Port Authority has brought a new meaning to “your goose is cooked”. Bloomberg announced a plan to wipe out at least 2,000 Canadian geese living within a five-mile radius of LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, as reported by the New York Daily News. The plan to target at least 2,000 Canadian geese living and nesting within a five-mile radius of LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, and then gas them on nearby Rikers Island, ruffled the feathers of many citizens across the United States. New York politicians say federal wildlife officials have been instructed to round up the Canadian geese during their molting season when the geese are unable to fly. The target areas for collecting the geese include 40 city parks near the major New York airports, such as Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and Fort Totten. The Port Authority is also planning to train and arm personnel to shoot down birds if an emergency situation arises. “[more here]

Gyr Falcon by Derek BakkenAncient bird nest found

BBC Earth News

“A 2,500-year-old bird’s nest has been discovered on a cliff in Greenland. The nesting site is still continually used by gyrfalcons, the world’s largest species of falcon, and is the oldest raptor nest ever recorded. Three other nests, each over 1,000 years old, have also been found, one of which contains feathers from a bird that lived more than 600 years ago. However, ornithologists fear climate change may soon drive the birds from these ancient nesting sites. Gyrfalcons live circumpolar to the Arctic. The birds range in colour from being almost exclusively white in Greenland to usually black in Labrador in Canada. Like many falcons, they do not build nests out of sticks and twigs, but typically lay eggs in bowl-shaped depressions they scrape into existing ledges or old nests made by other birds such as ravens.” [more here]

Video: Blackbird mobbing, San Francisco

This is great. A Blackbird in downtown San Francisco is keeping passers-by on their toes as it dive-bombs them. They’re lucky it’s not a raptor!

Here’s a video from MyFoxNational:

Global bird news: 7 June 2009

Ruff by J.M. Garg

Wader populations decline faster than ever

Birdlife International

According to a new publication by Wetlands International, more than half the populations of waders in Europe, West Asia and Africa are declining at an accelerating rate.The new ‘Wader Atlas’ is the first comprehensive overview of key site networks for waders in Europe, West Asia and Africa, and the publication highlights a need for better protection of the key wetlands along their flyways, especially in Africa and the Middle East. The authors outline that whilst many European Union (EU) Member States have established a fairly comprehensive network of protected areas for waders, many of which are Important Bird Areas (IBAs) identified by the BirdLife Partnership, the protection and management of key sites is still far from adequate beyond the EU’s borders. [more here]

Garden Warbler by Neil Phillips

Bird migrations set to increase

Birdlife International

Bird migrations are likely to get longer according to the first ever study of the potential impacts of climate change on the breeding and winter ranges of migrant birds. The length of some migrations could increase by as much as 400 km. “The predicted future temperature changes and the associated changes in habitat could have serious consequences for many species”, said lead-author Nathalie Doswald of Durham University (UK). Most warblers come here in spring and summer time to take advantage of the surplus of insects, and leave for warmer climes in the autumn”, added Dr Willis. “From 2071 to 2100, nine out of the 17 species we looked at are projected to face longer migrations, particularly birds that cross the Sahara desert”. [more here]

Yellow-billed Turaco photographed by Shoshana Sommer in Equtorial Guinea

African Important Bird Area Network able to withstand climate change

Birdlife International

Twenty first century climate change could see the ranges of many African bird species moving beyond the boundaries of the sites established for their protection, raising the spectre of even higher extinction rates than those currently projected.However, some sites are also likely to gain species whose ranges currently lie beyond the site’s borders. New research has examined the balance between these effects, and shows that under projected climate change over the next century, the African Important Bird Area (IBA) network will be an essential tool for conserving the region’s breeding species. [more here]

Great Bustard breeding in Britain again

Great Bustard by Hubert Link from the German Federal Archive

Fact. Great Bustard is now a breeding resident in Britain.

This from The Independent:

The world’s heaviest flying bird, the globally-threatened great bustard, has bred successfully in Britain for the first time since 1832.Five years into a reintroduction programme, which has brought young birds from southern Russia where the species is relatively plentiful, a female produced two chicks last week at a secret site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. Their birth is a conservation success story on a par with the return of the sea eagle to the west coast of Scotland, bringing back to the UK one of Europe’s most charismatic and unmistakable creatures. The turkey-sized males can reach nearly 50lb in weight. [more here]

Global bird news: 31 May 2009

Australian White IbisPesticide kills birds, Perth, Australia

The Australian

Nearly 200 ibises, ravens, gulls, ducks and a pelican were found dead or frothing and convulsing in Perth at the weekend. The discovery comes a year after the mysterious mass death of 200 birds only a few kilometres away and two years after the Esperance lead contamination scandal which emptied the skies over the holiday town of Esperance for months when thousands of birds were poisoned. The Department of Environment and Conservation yesterday blamed the latest deaths on the pesticide Fenthion, but said it was unclear whether it was a deliberate bird poisoning or had been caused by someone illegally dumping pesticide. The dead and dying birds were found at a rubbish tip and in pools of water at a neighbouring quarry site in the southern suburb of Henderson. DEC pollution response manager Ken Raine said samples had been taken from waterways to check for contamination and the rubbish tip had been covered with sand while investigations were continuing. Fenthion is a broad-spectrum organophosphorus insecticide used to control horticultural pests such as fruit fly and aphids as well as mosquitoes and other insects. It is an active ingredient in a number of products sold at hardware stores, including fly baits and fruit fly sprays. It was not known yesterday how much poison would have been needed to cause so many deaths.A DEC spokeswoman said if the birds were deliberately poisoned it was an offence under the Wildlife Conservation Act, with fines of up to $4000 for each bird species affected. Illegal dumping of pesticides was covered by the Environmental Protection Act.[more here]

Rook by Axel Mauruszat, BerlinRooks have ability to use tools


Researchers have found that rooks, a member of the crow family, are capable of using and making tools despite not doing so in the wild. Smarter than the average bird brain: Rooks use tools to get food, a study has found. Scientists from the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University who conducted the study believe the rooks’ ability to use tools are the by-product of a sophisticated form of physical intelligence.”This finding is remarkable because rooks do not appear to use tools in the wild, yet they rival habitual tools users such as chimpanzees and New Caledonian crows when tested in captivity,” said Chris Bird, the lead author of the study. In a series of experiments, the rooks quickly learnt to drop a stone to collapse a platform and acquire a piece of food, and subsequently showed the ability to choose the right size and shape of stone without any training. [more here]

Cuckoo by Gabriel BuissartCuckoo joins list of threatened birds


The latest assessment of the status of all of the UK’s 246 regularly occurring birds – Birds of Conservation Concern 3 – shows 52 are now of the highest conservation concern and have been placed on the ‘red list’. The revised red list now includes even more familiar countryside birds, including the cuckoo, lapwing and yellow wagtail, joining other widespread species such as the turtle dove, grey partridge, house sparrow and starling. Alarmingly, red listed species now account for more than one-in-five (21 per cent) of all the UK’s bird species. This is a far higher proportion than compared to the last assessment in 2002, when 40 species (16 per cent) were red listed. Most species on the red list have suffered a recent halving of range or population in the UK, or have undergone a historical decline since 1800. Amongst the species new to the red list is a suite of birds visiting the UK in summer, notably the cuckoo, wood warbler, and tree pipit. These birds, are widespread, but rapidly-declining, summer visitors to the UK. [more here]

Global bird news: 25 May 2009

redtailed-hawkLandfill incineration chimneys scorching perched raptors

Associated Press

“A towering landfill smokestack offers an irresistible perch for raptors to watch for rodents scavenging in the treeless landscape below. But when flames fed by landfill gas rush upward, the birds are being scorched or burned alive. At the urging of wildlife rehabilitators, the solid-waste industry is starting to investigate where birds may be at risk and ways to protect them — such as welding deterrent spikes atop smokestacks and providing alternative perches. It’s unclear how widespread the problem is, but suffering or dead birds have been reported in recent years in New York, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Illinois.” [more here]


Cactus Wren gets another chance in Culver City

Los Angeles Times

“Cactus wrens were last seen in Baldwin Hills 10 years ago, said Kimball Garrett, ornithology collections manager at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Human activities are not entirely to blame for the demise of the bird, whose numbers have declined throughout Southern California. Much of its former habitat is now covered with invasive plants, contaminated with pesticides and fertilizers, stressed by drought, surrounded by development and dominated by predators that now include feral cats and dogs. Baldwin Hills is an ideal place for a comeback. The 50-acre ecosystem links sky, sandy hill country and sea via the Ballona Creek drainage system. Its gullies, grasslands and brush support quail, meadowlarks, wood rats and gopher snakes.” [more here]

Yellowhammer by Andreas TrepteCommon British bird species dissapearing

Guardian News & Media

“Government figures show that populations of 19 bird species that rely on farmland have halved since serious counting started in the 1970s – a decline conservationists blame on intensive farming methods, with insecticide and herbicide sprayed on to monoculture fields shorn of vibrant hedges. The unmistakable yellow hammer, which likes to sing while perched as a dash of color on hedges and bushes, has steadily disappeared with the hedges and bushes. And a startling 80% drop across England in 40 years has diluted the shifting Rorschach blots painted on the dusk sky by massed flocks of starling – though urban changes are blamed for this too.” [more here]

Henslow's Sparrow Ammodramus henslowiiState grant helps protect grassland bird species

Department of Environmental Conservation

“More than 2,100 acres of privately owned, critical natural habitats will be protected and enhanced thanks to grants awarded today to help conserve dwindling grasslands in communities throughout upstate New York, State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis announced today. Grants totaling nearly $600,000 will be awarded to 22 private property owners as part of DEC’s Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) for grassland protection and management.”DEC and our partners in conservation have been tracking the decline in grassland bird populations through the Breeding Bird Survey since 1960s,” Grannis said. “Loss of pastures and hayfields have been the main reason for their decline. These grants will assist private landowners, most of them farmers, in restoring dwindling habitat for the benefit of birds as well as other wildlife.” [more here]

Latest news

Macrocephalon maleo

Bird, eggs destroyed by truck on Fort Myers Beach

Shocking news. is of the opinion that all vehicles, except emergency and conservation types, should be banned from driving on beaches. Beach-nesting species don’t stand a chance against unscrupulous drivers. All vehicles have been banned from beaches in South Africa, which has made a significant difference to the breeding success of the endangered African Black Oystercatcher. Read more about this story here.

Deeply divided panel backs eradication of Mute Swans

The control or eradication of alien species always starts a hot debate. Do you protect all birds, indigenous and other, or should alien species be eradicated? In this case the Mute Swans of Chesapeake Bay are said to be destroying sensitive water grasses and competing with other species for habitat. [more here]

“Maleo (Macrocephalon maleo) given own private beach”

In light of the IUCN recently announcing that an additional three bird species have been added to the Red List of critically endangered species, it’s good to see that Indonesian conservation officials have decided to allocate 14 hectares of pristine beach on the Binerean Cape of northern Sulawesi to the Maleo [more here]. The Maleo is a very interesting species. Eggs are laid communally and underground. Birdlife International’s factsheet on this species had this to say about the Maleo’s ecology:

Females lay 8-12 eggs in pits, heated by solar and/or geothermal radiation, over a 2-3 month period, peaking markedly at some localities during the regionally variable dry season. The eggs (averaging 16% of adult female body weight) comprise 61-64% yolk, and when laid are left to incubate (for 2-3 months) and hatch with no further parental support. The young take up to c.2 days to tunnel to the surface after hatching, emerging ready to fly. [more here]

Who would have guessed.