Blog stats

Friday, January 20, 2012

This week in birds - #6

Here's a recap of the news stories of the week that were related to the worlds of birds, Nature, and science. Click on the highlighted links to read the entire story.

*~*~*~* 

Do birds play? There is ample evidence that at least some do and the clearest examples of playfulness come from members of the crow family, certainly among the most intelligent of bird species. A video that gained popularity on YouTube this week provides the latest proof. It was recorded somewhere in Russia and features a Hooded Crow at play, snowboarding!

*~*~*~*

The biggest news in the world of conservation this week was the Obama administration's decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Congressional Republicans had inserted a provision in the bill that extended the payroll tax reduction that insisted that a decision must be made on the pipeline within 60 days. The State Department could not perform the due diligence necessary to ensure the protection of the environment, most importantly the aquifer that supplies water to much of the Mid-West, within that time frame and so the permit was denied. Proponents of the pipeline will be reapplying for a permit and likely seeking another route for the pipeline, one that will entail less risk to the environment.

*~*~*~* 

The warming climate is creating serious problems for European species of birds and butterflies. Their migration and breeding patterns are being upset. They are having difficulty adjusting their behavior to fit the new norm in temperatures.

*~*~*~*

One of the wonders of the natural world is the silent flight of owls on the hunt. They have evolved to hunt in darkness and their ability to move quietly through that dark world has long amazed scientists. A new study of Barn Owls seeks to explain how they are adapted to achieve that silent flight.

*~*~*~*

NASA has determined that 2011 was the ninth warmest year on record. They have an animation which shows the warming of the earth since 1880. Notice how the reds and yellows on the map increase dramatically beginning around 1980, until now almost all the areas are covered in red. Mesmerizing and worrying.

*~*~*~*

The native birds of Hawaii seem beset on every side as they struggle to survive in an island environment that has been radically changed over the last 100 or so years. Now comes word of another problem for forest-dwelling birds. They are having difficulty completing their annual molt which is a necessary event in the life-cycle of birds. The cause seems to be that they are unable to find enough food to sustain them through this energy-draining process.

*~*~*~*

On his blog this week, ornithologist David Sibley had a post about telling male goldfinches from female. When they are in their breeding feathers, the male American Goldfinch is one of the most distinctive of birds, but at this time of the year, male and female are virtually identical. No problem, of course, for the distinguished ornithologist, and no problem for me either. I'm just happy to recognize a goldfinch, whatever the sex!

*~*~*~*

How many different species are there on earth? The true answer is that no one knows for sure and probably never will, but scientists keep discovering new species all the time. In 2009, for example, over 19,000 new species were documented. Of that number, seven were birds and 9,738 were insects!

*~*~*~*

Migrating birds face so many obstacles along their route that it is a wonder to me that any of them ever arrive at their destination. Now we have evidence of a new barrier that they must get past. The lights on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, which is a major migration route for North/South American migrants, create confusion in migrating birds which causes them to fly into the Gulf where they are winding up in the bellies of tiger sharks

*~*~*~*

White-nose syndrome, a fungal disease, has wiped out six million bats in the northeastern United States. It is a disease that attacks bats while they are hibernating, and it has been recognized for several years, but so far nothing has been able to stop the course of the disease. There is a good possibility that it could spread to other parts of the country and could have a devastating effect on our bat populations. This, in turn, could have devastating effects for humans because bats are major pollinators as well as consumers of vast quantities of flying insects.  

*~*~*~*

Around the backyard: I haven't had a lot of opportunity to observe the birds in my yard this week, but I can tell you that the goldfinches are very hungry. I've had to refill the feeders that they frequent a couple of times this week.

Hungry goldfinches!

I made a couple of interesting observations on my daily walk today. As I approached a neighbor's house, I counted seven Black Vultures in her front yard. Then I looked up and saw four more on her roof. What could attract eleven vultures to a suburban front yard? As we got closer I could see that it was a cat. It had probably been killed on the street and the birds had dragged it into the yard. The sight brought home two points to me: 
(1.) Cats should be kept inside or restrained in an area where they will not be prey to automobiles, dogs, coyotes, or the other deadly dangers that the world holds for them. I love cats, but they should not be allowed to roam, for their own good as well as for the health of small animals. The tragedy of this animal's death reinforces that belief. 
(2.) Vultures are amazing birds. We don't give them enough credit for the services they perform. Without them, our world would be a much smellier and more disease-ridden place. Moreover, they are intelligent birds. They make much of their living along our roadsides, but how often do you see a vulture as roadkill? I'm guessing probably never. Most often they will drag the animal (if it is small enough) from the roadway to the side of the road where it is safer to dine. They may not be the most handsome of birds, but if "handsome is as handsome does," then they are certainly among the most attractive birds around.

My second observation today was a much more pleasant one. One of our neighbors has three large eastern cedar trees in their front yard and they are loaded with their distinctive blue berries at this time of year. Today, they were also loaded with about a hundred Cedar Waxwings. I often see and hear flights of waxwings over my yard but they haven't spent much time in my yard this winter. Now I know where they are all going!

4 comments:

  1. The snowboarding crow is fascinating!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. He's one cool bird, Rambling Wren!

    ReplyDelete
  3. All the goldfinches must be at your house Dorothy. I filled the sock feeder for them last weekend and it's still full!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, a goodly number of them are anyway, Jayne.

    ReplyDelete