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Saturday, March 23, 2013

This week in birds - #62 (With update)

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks have become perhaps the most ubiquitous duck in our area. Every evening, just at dusk, a large flock of these handsome birds, sometimes numbering up to fifty, flies over my yard on their way to their nighttime roost.


There has been a lot of reporting lately about the possibility of reviving species that have gone extinct through the use of extracted DNA from their fossils. On Friday, a day-long conference of scientists was held to address both the tricky scientific and the ethical issues related to such an enterprise. The conference was sponsored by National Geographic and they carried a live webcast of it, but it seems to have garnered very little attention from the press. Many scientists have expressed serious reservations about the idea. And I admit that, as much as I would love to see a live Passenger Pigeon, the world and the environment have moved on since that bird went extinct. Would it be right to bring the bird back to that changed environment?   


Punxatawney Phil correctly predicted an early spring for our part of the world, but his part of the U.S. is shivering in some unusually cold March weather. The culprit seems to be the melted Arctic ice which has released colder weather to flow into the eastern part of the country. 


Beginning in the summer of 2007, the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) began deploying satellite transmitters with onboard GPS receivers on Bald Eagles within the Chesapeake Bay region.  Transmitters have been fitted on 70 birds, some of which have been delivering daily tracking data for nearly six years. It is hoped that understanding patterns in eagle movement across the landscape will aid responsible placement of hazards such as power lines, wind turbines and cell towers, and help to avoid bird-aircraft collisions near airports.


Scientists have discovered eight new species of frog in a wildlife sanctuary in Sri Lanka. Nearly all of the species are critically endangered. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world in the Peruvian Amazon region, two new colorful species of woodlizard have been discovered.


A new University of Florida study of nearly 5,000 Haiti bird fossils shows that, contrary to a commonly held theory, human arrival 6,000 years ago didn't cause the island's birds to die simultaneously. Some species were more resilient than others. Understanding how and why the birds became extinct may help conservation efforts today.


The Myrmecos blog discusses the recent reports of the disastrous decline of the Monarch butterfly, and postulates that, although there is much speculation, we don't really know what is driving the beautiful butterfly to extinction.  


As part of a study on impacts from the world’s most widely used class of insecticides, nicotine-like chemicals called neonicotinoids, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has called for a ban on their use as seed treatments and for the suspension of all applications pending an independent review of the products’ effects on birds, terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates, and other wildlife. (Suspension of its use would probably help the Monarch, too.)


Earlier this year, the Discovery Channel released the first ever footage of the legendary giant squid in its natural environment.  The question that now arises is, was that the only species of such a giant or merely one of several?


A study of the collective behavior of animals in groups - swarms, flocks, schools, colonies - is revealing how the individuals interact and take their cues from their neighbors.  


On a Friday afternoon in early March, the State Department released a draft report that downplayed the environmental risks of the northern portion of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline which would ferry oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries in Texas, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. However, the State Department failed to report that the "experts" who helped draft that report had previously worked for TransCanada, the company looking to build the Keystone pipeline, and other energy companies poised to benefit from Keystone's construction. In my world, it seems like that might be a conflict of interest.


Around the backyard:

The baby bluebirds have flown! The little family that I've been reporting on here for the last couple of weeks have abandoned their box home and launched themselves into the wide world. I have to say that these birds were not good housekeepers. They have left behind one nasty mess for me to clean up and disinfect the box before it is used again. Maybe by this same pair of Eastern Bluebirds.

I've noticed that the flocks of Cedar Waxwings have grown quite a bit this week. They are still not as numerous as they were last year, but this morning I saw a flock of more than 50 of the birds in my yard. That's a significant change from the five or six I was seeing just a few weeks ago. 

It's been a few days now since I've seen or heard a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Have they headed north already? 

There's still plenty of activity in the yard. This morning, I saw a Northern Mockingbird carrying material for a nest. Other baby birds will be joining the bluebirds soon.

UPDATE: I was in the backyard late this afternoon when I heard chattering overhead that announced the arrival of the Chimney Swifts. I looked up to see two of the birds barreling around the skies over my yard. They almost always arrive just on the tail feathers of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and so it was again this year, as the hummingbirds arrived just a week ago.  


  1. I spotted a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in my yard this morning. I also spotted 2 warblers. They looked like yellow-rumped warblers. I'm still waiting for the RT and BC hummingbirds to arrive.

    1. After I wrote that I hadn't seen a kinglet for a few days, I did see one in the yard later in the afternoon. So they are still around.

      We should be on the lookout for new warblers. They should be coming through any day now.