On a remarkable expedition in 2008, a team of young explorers including three Cornell graduates discovered an undescribed bird in Peru. Now named Sira Barbet, the new species graces the cover of The Auk (July 2012), and receives its formal scientific description inside. Its scientific name, Capito fitzpatricki, honors the contributions of John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab, who did pioneering work in Peru (including discovering seven new species of his own) and also helped mentor the Cornell graduates on the expedition.
Those Cornell graduates are Mike Harvey, Glenn Seeholzer, and Ben Winger; their coauthors on the Auk article include Peruvian colleague Daniel Cáceres and U.S. colleague Jason Weckstein. “Fitz’s contributions to Neotropical ornithology, and his enthusiasm for exploration, stoked our dream for the expedition,” said Winger. “He has inspired generations of young ornithologists in scientific discovery and conservation, and we are honored to name this species for him.” Continue reading →
In what seems like a highly inefficient food procurement process, the majestic cormorant, a variety of seabird, dives to the sea floor in search of food.
Scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Research Council of Argentina attached a camera to the back of a cormorant to track its dietary regimen. And they followed it for or nearly two minutes before it finds something suitable — 150 feet below the surface of the ocean. The birds typically eat fish and other marine life, and this cormorant is thought to have grabbed a snake-like swimmer. Continue reading →
I just read the article, copied below, on ENature.com entitled “Why Do Goldfinches Wait Until July To Nest?”. The main point of the article is that goldfinches lay their eggs to coincide with ripening of seeds that they prefer to have for their young hatchlings. It only makes sense to talk about Goldfinches now, since it is “their time” and summer is a great time to feature them (incidentally, I agree with that).
The article is brilliant in that it uses this one species as an example of how the universe plans everything. All species of birds and animals breed, lay eggs and naturally plan their calendar around a generations old cycle that they are unable to break. It is the most important concept of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Doug Tallamy’s wonderful book (which, incidentally, has yet to go out of style) which discusses at length the need for native plants. Native plants are the keys to our planet. They are the reason animals do what they do, when they do it.
If a certain moth lays eggs at a certain time on only a certain tree, nature knows which birds need that particular larvae to feed its young and makes everything happen in a timely manner.
If the particular tree isn’t there, then the moth can’t lay its eggs, and there won’t be sufficient food for that particular bird species to eat when the time comes to feed its young.
A bird species in the news in recent years and the subject of a PBS special is the Red Knot. The entire feature entitled “Crash: A Tale of Two Species” can be viewed on-line (CLICK HERE OR THE TITLE) and does a wonderful job of explaining how this small bird knows when to leave the very southern most tip of the earth to arrive on New Jersey’s shores just in time for horseshoe crabs to lay their eggs, providing nourishment to allow the Red Knots to fly the rest of their journey to the arctic circle. Interruption of this cycle due to human actions put this delicate natural balance at risk.
Please take a few more minutes to read the article below, and consider native plants in the garden, especially trees and shrubs. Most garden centers are on board and can help you make good selections.
By July, most songbirds are in the final stages of raising their young, but not the American Goldfinches.
These appealing, colorful birds are just getting started.
Notoriously late nesters, goldfinches have been waiting for the thistles to bloom. When this happens in July, it signals the goldfinches that they can start building their nests which are made primarily of the silver fibers and down of thistle blooms. Generally, the nest is built in the fork of a horizontal tree limb, 4 to 14 feet above the ground.
The female builds a durable, neat cup of thistle and cattail fibers, so dense that it will hold water. In it she lays 4 to 6 pale blue to white eggs and then she incubates them for 12 to 14 days, until they hatch. The attentive male often feeds his mate while she sits on the nest.
By the time the eggs hatch, the thistle has gone to seed, which is perfect timing for feeding young goldfinches. The parents nourish this chicks by consuming the thistle seed themselves, and then regurgitating the partially digested, milk-like cereal into the mouths of their nestlings. This is as close as birds come to mammals that feed their young milk from mammary glands.
Baby goldfinches are fully feathered and out of the nest 10 to 16 days later. Almost immediately, they join their parents at bird feeders across America. That’s when many people suddenly notice so many goldfinches as the summer progesses.
Have you seen nesting goldfinches yet? Or young preparing to fledge?
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A baby golden eagle is recovering at a wildlife rehabilitation facility after officials say it miraculously survived a Utah wildfire last month.
Kent Keller told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/NKy8WO ) he feared the worst when he returned to the nest site west of Utah Lake to retrieve a leg band he had attached to the male eaglet June 1.
But the veteran Utah Division of Wildlife Resources volunteer found the burned bird alive on June 28 behind a charred tree, about 25 feet below the nest that was burned to a crisp in the 5,500-acre Dump Fire near Saratoga Springs.
“I thought there was no chance he would be alive. I was stunned when I saw him standing there,” Keller said. “I thought maybe I could rebuild the nest a little bit, but I took a good look at him and realized that was not going to happen.”
The 70-day-old eaglet had suffered burns on his talons, beak, head and wings. His flight feathers were melted down to within an inch or two of his wing and tail. He’s very underweight at just over five pounds.
Keller realized the eagle would not fly for at least a year and that the parents eventually would stop providing food. Not a stick from the nest was left after the fire sparked by target shooters swept through
“I’ve seen nests burn before, but this is the first year I have seen one burn with young in it,” he told the Tribune. “They are usually long gone and flying when fire season starts.”
After permission was secured from state and federal wildlife agencies, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden assumed care of the eaglet this week.
“I wasn’t sure he was going to make it,” said DaLyn Erickson, executive director of the center. “He kind of had that look like he may have given up.”
But the eagle named Phoenix has since taken to eating beef heart and venison. He’s treated several times a day for his burns and seems to be gaining strength.
“He looks good now,” said Amber Hansen, a member of the center’s board of directors. “But we think if he had been there (at the nest site) another day, he probably would not have survived.”
What seems to have saved his life during the fire was the insulation offered by his down feathers and once-thick body, according to the wildlife rehabilitation center.
Officials hope the bird can be released back into the wild next year, but say it’s too early to tell about its future. Volunteers will work to keep him as wild as possible.
“It depends on how much follicle damage there is to his wings,” Hansen said. “If they are not too burned, he should be able to molt into new feathers next year and hopefully be able to fly.”
Did you think humans invented inebriation? Guess again!
Frugivores (animals that eat fruit) and nectarivores (animals that eat nectar) are limited to food sources that last a relatively short time before they ripen, then ferment, then completely rot. So you would think that a fruit-eating animal would be much more successful at feeding itself if it could eat foods in various stages of fermentation, right? Not only would the ability to eat fermented fruits increase food abundance, but alcohol also has high caloric content (ehem: beer bellies), and makes the food easier to find by that distinctive alchy-smell. So rock on, little frugivores! It’s all good!
Or is it? Imagine you’re drunk: kinda happy, stumbling occasionally, saying things you’ll likely regret in the morning, and getting lost on the way to the bathroom. Now imagine you’re being chased by a mountain lion. Crikey! You were so busy getting blitzed on fermented fruit, you forgot that you are a prey animal… and it’s a dangerous world out there!
If frugivores, such as fruit-eating bats, consumed a lot of fermented fruit, you would think they would be drunk all the time and would fly wonky and get lost and generally be less likely to survive… unless they had developed an ability to tolerate alcohol. Dara Orbach, Nina Veselka, Louis Lazure and Brock Fenton at the University of Western Ontario and Yvonne Dzal at the University of Regina decided to test the ability of several fruit-eating bats to hold their liquor. The researchers went to Belize and caught bats from six different fruit-eating species. They fed them either sugar-water or sugar-water with 1.5% alcohol in it (that’s less than a Molson Light) and later measured their blood alcohol level (BAC) in their saliva.
Then the researchers put the bats in an obstacle course. That’s right, an obstacle course! They timed how long it took each bat to traverse the obstacle course (if they completed it) and counted how many times they ran into something or went in a circle. Afterwards, they gave them time to sober up before they released them back into the wild… presumably to go tell their friends about the crazy night they had. Ooohhh, was this gonna be funny!
To the researchers’ surprise, despite the fact that several bats had a BAC over 0.3% (the equivalent to a 150 pound person after 10 drinks), the bats on alcohol did not seem to be impaired in any way! They traversed the obstacle course just as fast and completed the course just as often as their kiddie-cocktail sugar-water drinking counterparts. They never even ran into anything.
So, I guess we’re not going to be entertained by drunken bat antics. But this is good news for the fruit-eating bats – Somehow, they are able to metabolize fermented fruit to get the caloric benefit without the risks of impairment. Now, if we could just figure out how they do that…
The moral of this story: Don’t drink alcohol when there are predators around unless you are a fruit-eating bat. And don’t challenge a fruit-eating bat to a drinking contest. He will drink you under the table!
Want to know more? Check this out:
Orbach DN, Veselka N, Dzal Y, Lazure L, & Fenton MB (2010). Drinking and flying: does alcohol consumption affect the flight and echolocation performance of phyllostomid bats? PloS one, 5 (2) PMID: 20126552
By Meera Subramanian for Nature.com
Despite a ban on toxic bullets, the carcasses left by US hunters are poisoning this majestic carrion feeder.
After more than three decades on the brink of extinction, the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) — the largest and most threatened wild bird species in the United States — is making a modest recovery, thanks to intensive captive breeding and medical intervention. But troubling data reported this week suggest that unless hunters change their practices, the condor will require extensive support in perpetuity if it is to survive in the wild.
The cause of the problem is that the condors ingest lead when they feed on the carcasses of animals that hunters have shot. A multidisciplinary study published on 26 June (M. Finkelstein et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1203141109; 2012) shows that chronic lead poisoning persists among condors, despite a 2008 California ban on the use of lead shot in regions where the birds are being reintroduced.
Building on earlier studies, the researchers collected feathers and blood samples from trapped birds and found no discernible difference in lead levels before and after the ban. Condors feed by scavenging; the results show that many of those sampled have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies. Lead poisoning can severely damage the birds’ nervous systems and impair liver and kidney function, among other problems, and it can be fatal. The study also found that approximately 20% of condors in the wild have lead levels that are high enough to require costly treatment with chemical agents to remove the toxic metal from their bodies.
“By any measure, the lead poisoning rates in condors are of epidemic proportions,” says Myra Finkelstein, a toxicologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, who led the research.
The California condor population fell to an all-time low of 22 individuals in 1982, but captive-breeding and monitoring programmes have brought it back up to nearly 400 birds. Of those, half reside in captive-breeding centres, which provide a steady supply of new releases. In California, only 24 chicks have fledged in the wild. At that rate, the study shows, it would take 1,800 years for the population in California to reach 150 — the number called for in the recovery plan — without the ongoing release of birds bred in captivity.
Finkelstein’s team did an isotopic analysis of the lead in the birds and identified lead shot or bullets as the main source of contamination. Even though hunters must use copper bullets or other alternatives in condor habitat, some are apparently ignoring the ban. Condors must consume 75–150 carcasses every year to maintain a healthy weight. The study found that even if fewer than 2% of the carcasses contain lead, there is a 50% chance that a condor will eat contaminated meat (see ‘Loaded odds’).
“Kudos to the hunters who are using copper [bullets], but it isn’t going to be effective until you get all the lead out,” says Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), based in Tucson, Arizona. Lead ammunition is cheaper and popular with hunters. The American Bird Conservancy in The Plains, Virginia, which advocates for lead-free hunting, argues that publicizing the risk of lead shot to human health might persuade hunters to use alternatives.
Pedro Nava, a former member of the California State Assembly who spearheaded the lead ban, says that a lack of resources for enforcing the ban means that the condor’s future depends on the good will of hunters. He says that the California Department of Fish and Game needs more enforcement personnel. “They have 300 game wardens in the state. If they were to be consistent with other states in terms of population, they should have a thousand,” he says.
Nava says that he would like to see the ban expand beyond condor habitat, starting with state-owned uplands favoured by hunters. On 7 June, the CBD filed a lawsuit to require the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban lead ammunition, but the agency maintains that it lacks the legal authority to do so.
Despite general acceptance in the United States for the need to restrict lead in nearly all commercial products, the National Rifle Association (NRA), based in Washington DC, says that applying such rules to ammunition would infringe US gunowners’ rights. “We’d look at it as an anti-gun move,” said Susan Recce, the NRA’s director of conservation, wildlife and natural resources. The NRA is lobbying for legislation that would prevent any EPA intervention.
Finkelstein says that the problem has to be addressed somehow, or the California condors will never recover. “We’re spending an exorbitant amount of time tracking, trapping and hospitalizing these condors to manage their lead poisoning episodes,” she says. “It’s just not an effective way to go about this problem.”