I received an email today from Jessica Green over at Audubon regarding Audubon’s week long initiative, “Oil & Birds Don’t Mix”. This seven days of action includes a plea to everyone to take a small step on Tuesday, today, to walk to work, carpool, or take public transportation. This one small step on the part of millions of people may help to demonstrate the difference that we can make towards oil dependency as a nation and, even as a world force.
Last week, Melanie Driscoll, Audubon’s director of bird conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi Flyway, along with several others from the wildlife community, spoke during a Congressional briefing on the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. I’ll admit that I am like most people – there are so many things swirling around on the news that it is easy to forget the past, regardless of how important it might be to remember.
With that being said, I learned something from reading the transcript of Melanie’s presentation that I had not been in touch with before, That is, there is a multiplying effect that happens after large scale disasters such as Horizon.
The concept is simple and, in actuality, sort of obvious. It’s not possible to know the exact effect for many years after the spill. Her example followed the Pigeon Guillemot in Alaska. After the Exxon Valdez spill, 10 to 15 percent of the birds from the spill area perished due to the acute oiling. The decline, though, had a continuing effect over many years based on several possible reasons including:
Adult birds feeding in the exposed area, which was still toxic.
Some of their prey had accumulated oil compounds. For ten years afterwards, spill area birds showed biochemical markers for oil exposure
A decline in food supply with the crash in herring populations.
They were at an increased risk for predation as mink and river otters turned to these birds for food after the decline in shellfish populations.
The Brown Pelican does, as Melanie puts it, stand as the “Poster Bird” for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. A total of 826 were collected, either deceased or alive but in peril, during the disaster. However, two years is not a long enough period of time to determine the “multiplier”.
There are some things that are known:
Melanie concluded her presentation with a list of working solutions that included doing more to connect the Mississippi River to marshes and beaches through large scale sediment diversions, acting more quickly to help restore the Coastal ecosystem, and funding long-term monitoring of the deepwater and nearshore environments.
As time goes by, there will continually be other disasters, other worries that overshadow even great natural disasters such as Deepwater Horizon. I, for one, am grateful that there are birding organizations such as Audubon who continue to express concern and lobby on the behalf of nature to not just protect, but to improve our Earth, if that is possible.
I could lead you on and make you think it might not be true. Fact is, the latest research from Cornell shows that birds who adapt most readily to human-changed landscapes do, in fact, have larger brains.
Researchers found that birds that colonized in urban areas did have relatively larger bigger brains than non-urban dwellers. According to the article published in the Project Feederwatch Blog, Orioles, dippers, pipits, wagtails, and buntings have relatively small brains and have mostly been unable to adapt to city life. Whereas corvids (crows and jays), tits (the chickadee family), nuthatches, wrens, and kinglets, on the other hand, have relatively large brains and often survive in cities. These findings suggest that larger brains enable birds to figure out how to survive in new environments.
The research goes on to suggest that birds with larger brains will, as the Earth becomes more and more populated and urbanized, begin to “win out” (my words, not theirs) over their smaller-brained counterparts.
This particular study was done in two countries, examining 82 species in 22 families of birds, so it isn’t globally conclusive.We have seen particular species of birds practically wiped out because of reduced or ruined habitat. In these situations, the habitat area was so specific, that the birds refused to nest anywhere else.
If I use a pigeon as an example, this is a bird that is most prevalent of all in big cities. Large brain? It’s extremely likely? Ability to adapt to urban life? Most assuredly. But seemingly smart? I’m not so sure. Yet, you see them all over, so there is, without question, something to be said for that. As you can see from the picture above, there is also an opportunistic existence that comes into play.
There are so many other factors that come into play besides brain size and urbanization. Food sources, as an example, may change, not as a result of urbanization, but of other factors. Comes to mind the Red Knots on the shores of New Jersey. This research did not take that aspect into consideration, not that it necessarily should, just an observation.
In conclusion, here’s a fun video that shows the tenacity and adaption of a common crow.
By Claire Horvath
Well, April 15th has come and gone. Taxes have been paid (or deferred!) and our thoughts turn to the hummingbirds. Yes, that’s how we do things around here. April 15th is the reminder date for getting our feeders out for these tiny guys.
So, in anticipation of our hummers we wanted to share this tip. GET THE RED OUT! Get it out of your hummingbird solution (4 parts water to 1 part sugar) and instead make sure it is on the feeder! If you are worried that your feeder isn’t colorful enough to get their attention… consider a red Christmas bow! Dangle red beads from the feeder! Paint it red with finger nail polish! Anything but putting the red in the liquid.
We have had only a few reports of hummers so far this season and they have been the males heading north! Keep your eyes peeled though… the rest should be coming up as the azaleas bloom!
Claire is owner of Mother Nature’s Store in Columbia, MD. This was her tip of the week for this week in April. We love Claire’s witty style. She sends out one email tip every week, simple and even without pictures (gasp!). Claire has really mastered the art of including small bits of social media into each day. She keeps in touch with her customers, not by drowning them in gallons of information, but rather by giving just a taste of what’s important now – namely, taxes and hummingbirds. Who would have ever thought those two things would go together? Thanks, Claire!
When you think of birds and invasive species, what comes to mind? I don’t know about you, but I think of house sparrows, house finches and starlings. They really top my list. House Sparrows, an import that takes over any nest box it can, but is equally happy inhabiting ivy on the sides of houses “commune style”. House finches, who are thought, by some, to possibly be mating with native Purple finches; not to mention their gregarious nature at birdfeeders. And, lastly, Starlings, brought to the US in 1890 as part of a plan to introduce all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare. (What?)
But you know my style by know. I’m not talking about something that you initially would think of. And no, I’m not talking kudzu either.
I’ll bet you didn’t think of snakes. The truth is, other invasive animal species can also have a big effect on bird species. When they are introduced to non-native habitats, they can take advantage of native species of wildlife, ruining an otherwise symbiotic ecosystem.
That’s what is happening in Florida right now. According to Smithsonian Science, invasive Burmese Pythons are not only attacking bird populations, but also going after eggs in the nest.
Smithsonian Science goes on to say that Pythons, native to Asia, were first found in the Everglades in 1979. They were thought to be either discarded or escaped pets. Today, they have taken over native species and are a continuing and growing threat to wildlife in the Everglades.
Studies and examinations of the Pythons show that they have consumed more than twenty-five species of birds.
They are found to have consumed everything from a small house wren to a Great Blue Heron, but it is only recently that scientists have discovered that they are a threat to eggs as well.
The National Park Service and others continue to monitor and test Pythons in the Everglades. Florida will, experts say,likely become more and more plagued by invasive species due to its favorable climate for so many of the world’s worst offenders, who easily thrive in Florida’s welcoming, albeit shrinking, Everglades.
So, as a little post note, when you think of invasive species, you are, as always, invited to “think outside the nest box”. You are invited to weigh in on the subject by emailing me, or posting on our Facebook wall.
Python image by Sarah L. Stewart, courtesy Smithsonian Science
Thanks again to Cornell Lab of Ornithology for this great nestcam of a Great Blue Heron sitting on four eggs. The first egg is scheduled to hatch sometime during the last week of April. There are actual two nestcams with different views of this same nest.
What makes this nestcam so special is that the quality – streaming continuously in HD – is really extraordinary compared to many that I have seen.
View the two Nestcams below. Enjoy!
Video View #2
Courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Life