Saturday, October 31, 2015

This week in birds - #180

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

Beautiful Sandhill Cranes are returning to their wintering grounds. Luckily for us, some of those wintering grounds are along the Gulf Coast, so we get a chance to see them during the winter months.

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If winter is truly coming then it must mean that the Snowy Owls are, too. In fact, the beautiful and charismatic owls appear to be moving south even earlier than usual this year. Reports of sightings are already coming to eBird.

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Greenland is melting, but our science-averse Congress does not want scientists investigating the mechanism or reasons for the melting, how fast it is happening, or if anything can be done to slow or prevent it.    

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In more bad news for Hawaii's rarest and most endangered birds, a recent study projects that they will lose 50% of their habitat due to climate shifts that are expected to occur before the end of this century.

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Unfortunately, the news is just as bad for Mexican wolves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had a plan to introduce two adult wolves with pups, along with ten captive-born pups into the Mexican Wolf Recovery Area in southern New Mexico and Arizona, but the New Mexico Game and Fish Commission has rejected the plan, increasing the likelihood of the species' extinction.

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A tiny fossilized bird skeleton is helping researchers to understand the explosion of diversity that occurred in feathered species after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

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Africa's vultures are in serious trouble due to poaching and deliberate poisoning caused by a lack of understanding of the birds' importance to the environment. Up to half of the species are now facing extinction. 

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Bird migration continues to fascinate ordinary citizens and scientific researchers alike. Why do they migrate? How do they know when to migrate? How do they choose the route they will take? That last question has some interesting answers, for often the routes chosen are not the shortest. But when scientists took the time to map the most efficacious, safest, most efficient routes, they found that usually those were the routes that birds were actually taking.

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Of course, sometimes, for whatever reasons, those maps in the bird's brain go awry. How else to explain how a Hooded Warbler that should be in South Texas or Mexico by now has ended up in Calgary?

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Once a fetid mess, the waters around Jamaica Bay in New York have been cleaned up and are now a serene wetland that offers shelter and food to migrating birds. It just proves that, with the will to do it, such transformations can take place. If we do our part, Nature will take care of the rest.

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Warmer sea waters, a result of the warming climate, are forcing Indian Ocean King Penguins to travel farther in search of food, which in turn is cutting into the time they have for breeding. This has dire implications for the species' future.

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Big cats are under severe pressure from poaching around the world. But it's not just lions and tigers that are the victims. Clouded leopards, one of the lesser known species, have become the latest target of the illegal traders.

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Atlantic Puffins and European Turtle Doves now face the same extinction threat as African elephants and lions. Their numbers have plummeted in recent years, mostly due to the effects of changes in the climate. They've now been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list of species that are at risk of being wiped out.

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One of Europe's rarest birds is also one of its largest with a wingspan of 2.8 meters - the Lammergeier or Bearded Vulture. It is also commonly known as the "bone breaker" for its habit of dropping bones from a great height in order to break them so that it can get at the marrow inside.

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A study of one of America's rarest birds, the Whooping Crane, has shown that captive-raised chicks are better able to adapt to new conditions.

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Noah Stryker continues on his Big Year quest and, on day 299, he saw his 5,000th bird of the year - a Flame-crowned Flowerpecker in Mindanao. I wonder if I'll break 300 this year.

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Around the backyard

Well, it's not a Flame-crowned Flowerpecker but it sure put a smile on my face.

As I walked out my back door Thursday morning, I heard its insistent cry, "fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee." Yes, the Eastern Phoebes are back. They usually arrive here in late fall and some spend the winter with us while most continue on farther south. For the last several years, we've had at least one with us throughout the winter. Is it the one that arrived this week? I have no way of knowing, of course, but I'd like to think so.



4 comments:

  1. Your Sandhill Crane photo is wonderful, Dorothy! I got over to the local wildlife refuge to take their pictures too, but my camera battery was dead. That was disappointing. All your bird news is interesting, but a lot of it not good news. I think we all need to be using solar power.

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    1. Unfortunately, we don't get much good news of the environment these days. Solar power would certainly help to solve a few of our problems, I think.

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  2. Love the pic of the cranes and that of the Phoebe. Did you know that cranes are considered sacred in China?

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    1. Yes, and they should be considered precious, if not sacred, everywhere.

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