Saturday, September 13, 2014

This week in birds - #125

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

House Finches are among my favorite visitors to my feeders at all seasons of the year.

The female...

And her mate.
Finches frequently visit in family groups, so if you see one, there's a good chance you might see four or five at least but you can be pretty well assured of seeing a pair. They are inseparable.

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The big news in the world of North American birds this week was the report by the Audubon Society which detailed the anticipated effects of climate change on the species that make their homes here. The prospects are grim. A study, the results of which were announced on Monday, found that climate change is likely to so alter the bird population of North America that about half of the approximately 650 species will be driven to smaller spaces or forced to find new places to live, feed and breed over the next 65 years. If they do not or cannot, they could become extinct.

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The annual State of the Birds report, compiled and sponsored by a number of conservation groups, was also released this week. It gives us a snapshot of what bird life on the continent is like in 2014, 100 years after the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon

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In an article published online by Science magazine on Thursday, scientists described the discovery of a bizarre-looking predatory dinosaur that was larger than Tyrannosaurus rex and that swam and dined on fish.  

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In a report that buoys the spirits of those of us of a certain age, scientists say that elderly seabirds are able to dive every bit as well as their younger counterparts.

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A decade of research on Common Loons in the Adirondacks has identified threats to the birds in that area and has provided suggestions on how best to protect them.

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Rhinoceros beetles are so named because of the impressive horns on their heads and their fighting styles make full use of those weapons.

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A new report shows that concentrations of nearly all the major greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013. Levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose at a record-shattering pace, surprising scientists and spurring fears of an accelerated warming of the planet in the coming decades.

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Old World vultures have learned to use social cues from birds of prey, like eagles, to help them find food. They watch the raptors to learn where there might be a carcass on which they can feed.

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In more bad news from the climate change front, a new report states that iconic pine and aspen forests in the Rocky Mountains are dying off at an alarming rate because of the warming climate.

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Ring-billed Gulls along the southern shores of Lake Michigan have learned to hunt migrating songbirds as a part of their diet.

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If you are a person with an insect phobia, you need to get over yourself! In fact, most insects are either beneficial or at least harmless and, of course, many of them are beautiful and quite fascinating. Without them, life as we know it would not exist, because that life depends on pollination, and pollination, to a very large degree, depends on insects.  

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Rails are a fascinating family of birds. Once scattered over the islands of the Pacific, at least two of their species became extinct as a result of World War II. But these days, rails are making a comeback on the islands. A new wave of different species of the birds is successfully colonizing there.

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Finally, in some very good news, a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that dangerous pesticide levels have dropped dramatically in U. S. rivers and streams since 1992 due to the development of safer pesticides and stricter legal restrictions on their use. At the beginning of the study, virtually all streams nationwide contained toxic levels of pesticides, but in the most recent decade of the study, only one stream was found with such concentrations. 

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Around the backyard:

Hummingbird activity in the yard has become frantic this week as more and more migrants come through.

Most of the visitors this week have been female Ruby-throats, like this one photographed at one of my feeders today, along with some juveniles. I also saw at least one adult male RTH.

But I'm also seeing more Rufous Hummers, like this female feeding at one of my hamelia shrubs today. I think this one may actually be one of the birds that has wintered with us for the last couple of years, because whenever she finishes feeding, she heads straight for the exact perch that has been favored by one of those birds.



 
And here she is - surveying her domain.





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