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Saturday, June 22, 2013

This week in birds - #70

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

Picture of Chilean Woodstar by Jorge Herreros, courtesy of ABC.

The American Bird Conservancy's Bird of the Week is the Chilean Woodstar. In one of the driest deserts of the world, in northern Chile, this tiny hummingbird with a long forked tail and violet throat guards his territory among some chaƱar bushes along a wash surrounded by lifeless expanses of sand and rock. The Chilean Woodstar continues to hang on, but for how long? Its total population now numbers about 400. It is rated as endangered and its population is decreasing. It may well be on its way to extinction.


The full Moon tomorrow night, June 23, will find our Moon at perigee in relation to the Earth - that is, it will be at its closest point to the Earth this year. Consequently, the full Moon will appear the biggest and brightest of the year to viewers on Earth. So, naturally, it has come to be hyped as the Supermoon. But in fact, you probably will not be able to notice the difference with the naked eye. This full Moon will look pretty much like all full Moons, which is to say, big and bright and gorgeous and definitely worth stepping away from the TV set and going outside to look at it.


It sometimes seems that all the news from the world of conservation is doom and gloom so it was particularly gratifying to read a BirdLife report this week which outlined some notable conservation successesThe report listed six particular "success stories" - namely the Seychelles Magpie Robin, Black Robin, Mauritius Parakeet, Rarotonga Monarch, Asian Crested Ibis, and Lear's Macaw - where concerted efforts have brought species back from the brink of extinction.


llIuminating Fossils tells us of a fossil of an ancient penguin found on Heard Island in the Indian Ocean. The penguin was unique in that it had yellow feathers.


June 16 - 23 is National Pollinator Week. Have you done anything to make life better for the pollinators in your yard this week? Bug Girl has an interesting post about the importance of pollinators. The emphasis this year is on native bees as pollinators.


Migratory shorebird populations are at great risk from rising sea levels due to global climate change, warns a recent scientific study. These birds play an important role in the distribution of nutrients within wetland and coastal ecosystems, and their loss could have unknown consequences for the rest of the world.


Meanwhile, scientists are increasingly worried about the phenomenon of starving seabirds, most recently off the coast of Maine. It is believed that the starvation is being caused by global warming which is causing their main food sources to move to other areas.


Fine particulate air pollution has serious health effects, including premature mortality, pulmonary inflammation, accelerated atherosclerosis, and altered cardiac functions. But urban trees play a big role in removing such fine particular matter from the air, thus saving lives.


Perhaps the biggest threat to biodiversity on Earth is the ongoing global growth in the human population. New research indicates that this growth will inevitably crowd out mammals and birds and has the potential to threaten hundreds of species with extinction within 40 years.


The Cape Parrot of South Africa is one of the most endangered parrots on Earth. Conservationists are trying to save the yellowwood forest which is its habitat and which is dwindling, further endangering the bird.


The weird and unusual Chile Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma rufum), whose tadpoles grew inside the vocal sacs of adult males, appears to be extinct. A four-year quest failed to turn up any evidence that the species still exists. The frogs were last seen in 1980. As you might guess from the name, the frog was first discovered and described by Charles Darwin.


Around the backyard:

Mama Eastern Bluebird is now incubating four blue eggs in the bird box in the veggie garden. Each of her first two broods had five chicks, but she stopped at four this time.

Earlier this year, I described witnessing a Ruby-throated Hummingbird's courtship display and remarked that this was the first time I had ever seen one live. Well, now I've seen another! This time it was even more impressive.

I was watching a female hummingbird feed from the blossoms of a yellow cestrum plant in my backyard yesterday when suddenly a male hummer swooped in and hovered in front of her. He then flared out his scarlet gorget and flew back and forth horizontally in front of her several times. After making five or six such passes, he flew high into the air and began making the U-shaped dives that I had observed previously. Again, he did this a number of times. 

During all of his impressive display the female continued to sip from the blossoms and completely ignored him. Finally, he gave up and flew off while she continued to feed.

The Purple Martins are gathering. Soon they will be heading south once again, their sojourn with us complete for another summer. Usually they are gone from my neighborhood by about the Fourth of July.


  1. What a wonderful, informative post. I wonder what threatens the Chilean Woodstar? As for the hummingbirds in your backyard, that's too funny!

    We noticed the moon tonight, large and luminous. I will pay extra close attention tomorrow. Thank you, Dorothy!

    1. As with so many birds and other species facing extinction, I think the Chilean Woodstar faces loss of habitat and encroaching human development.