Saturday, May 23, 2015

This week in birds - #158

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

Everybody's favorite backyard bird, the Northern Cardinal.

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We may as well get the really bad news out of the way first - another terrible oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It develops that the company in charge of the pipeline that leaked all that black goo onto pristine beaches had accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006. The news gets even worse. The spill has moved south to Coal Oil Point Reserve which is the nesting grounds of the threatened Western Snowy Plover, which is now in the middle of its nesting season. Conservationists are working hard to try to protect the area and the birds.

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What does the Sage Grouse have to do with military spending? Not a thing unless you live in the world of congressional politics. The threatened bird has become the latest political football in Washington. The Interior Department is considering whether the bird should be added to the endangered species list which would mean that the areas where it lives would have to be protected from development. Republicans in the House have added language to the military spending bill - that's right, military spending - that would block the Interior Department from giving protection to the bird. It's just another example of the nefarious ways that enemies of the Endangered Species Act are attempting to weaken and, ultimately, kill it.

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There's an interesting report out this week that says that other species of animals pay attention when birds give their alarm calls. Makes sense. After all, the predators that threaten birds - hawks, cats, snakes, etc. - present a threat to other animals as well and it wouldn't take long for a prey animal to recognize that and take advantage of the warning system. 

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Caledonian Crows are well known as being among the brainiest of birds. Their use of tools has been well-documented. Now comes word that the birds store their tools when they are not in use, so that they will be available when needed.

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The decline of many pollinators has been of concern for years. Now, the Obama Administration has announced a "National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and Other Pollinators." A paper detailing the effort was released on May 19. 

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New research has found that the lineages of dogs and wolves actually diverged much earlier than previously thought, some 27,000 to 40,000 years ago. Moreover, the most ancient breeds appear to be Siberian Huskies and Greenland sled dogs which have inherited a portion of their genes from a newly discovered ancient species called the Taimyr wolf. 

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Male Java Sparrows accompany themselves on the drums when they sing. They click their bills to provide percussive accompaniment. 

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Another Javan bird, the Javan Myna, appears to be displacing the Common Myna in Singapore. Conservationists are reporting that the Common Myna is becoming increasingly uncommon in the area and the invasive Javan species seems to be taking over the niche once held by that bird.

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In more news of invasive species, a new study of nearly all the trees in the Appalachian region reveals that roughly half of those trees trace their origins to Asia. The others most likely originated in North America.

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A study of tissue from the cells of dead dolphins along the northern Gulf of Mexico reveals that many of deaths were brought about or at least contributed to by the huge BP oil spill of 2010. There is every reason to believe that the long-term effects of this oil spill are still playing out in the Gulf environment.

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Chilean authorities are trying to determine the cause of death of about 1300 seabirds that washed up on a beach in their country.

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An analysis of the blood of Griffon Vultures in the wild in Portugal and Catalonia reveals that they have been exposed to high concentrations of lead in their diets.

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A study has shown that shade-grown coffee and cocoa plantations are much better for birds and the entire ecosystem than plants grown in the open sun.

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Around the backyard:

Firsts for this week:

  • First cicada heard "singing."
  • First "rain crow," more properly known as the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. This is another favorite summer visitor of mine and some years I don't hear or see them at all in my neighborhood, so I was very glad to note the presence of the bird this week. The legend or myth is that the call of the bird signifies that rain is coming. It appears that they must have been singing just about constantly in Southeast Texas over the last couple of weeks!
  • First tiny frogs observed. My little goldfish pond has been teeming with tadpoles for a while now. At least some of the little guys have now made the transition to frog-hood. It's a joy to encounter them. The world needs more frogs.   

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, TR. I love taking them and sharing them.

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  2. My appreciation of birds is just recent: about four years old, but they never stop to amaze me; they are so smart that I wonder how I never realized that before.

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    Replies
    1. They are no birdbrains - that's for sure!

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