Saturday, July 16, 2016

This week in birds - #215

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

A favorite of backyard birders, the Tufted Titmouse, pays a visit to my backyard fountain.

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A cooing Tyrannosaurus Rex? A study of the vocal equipment of dinosaurs finds many parallels between them and birds. Thus, scientists postulate that many of their vocalizations may have been closer to the cooing of doves than the bloodcurdling roars that we tend to imagine.

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The Republican Party's platform committee has adopted a plank of the platform that calls for selling off public lands and logging national forests. No more Yosemite or Yellowstone National Park and no more protected national forests. Turn it all over to the developers - the miners, loggers, and ranchers. The platform also specifically calls for keeping Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens and gray wolves off the Endangered Species list

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The first of what is hoped to be an annual event, World Shorebirds Day, is coming up on September 6. It is an event that aims to call attention to the challenges faced by shorebirds and it will include a citizen science project, a count of the birds to be held on September 6 - 7.

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The exploding white-tailed deer population in the eastern half of the country has been an ongoing concern in recent years. Now, a team of researchers has quantified the economic and social impact of bringing back large carnivores to control that population. The researchers used cougars as their case study and they found that, within 30 years, the cats could thin deer populations and reduce vehicle collisions with them by 22 percent, reducing human fatalities and injuries and vehicle damage.

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Good news for birds in the Great Lakes region: A long-term study finds that most species in the area are holding steady or are increasing.

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From the mind-boggling department: The new British Prime Minister has shut down the department that was charged with overseeing the government's efforts to control climate change. Those functions have supposedly been moved to another agency.

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Last week, I reported on the deaths of the two captive-bred Spoon-billed Sandpiper chicks in England. John Platt argues that those deaths may actually represent a victory in the conservation of the highly endangered species, because the necropsies are expected to provide valuable information which may help save future chicks. 

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The good news is that a beautiful new species of orchid has been discovered in Colombia. The bad news is that it is already critically endangered. At least now perhaps it can be given protection that will save it.

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On Wednesday, temperatures in the tiny town of Deadhorse, Alaska - located about 200 air miles southeast of Barrow, and just 10 miles from the Arctic Ocean - rocketed to a high of 85°F, an all-time high for the Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay area. Meanwhile, in the Houston area our temperatures struggle to get below 80 degrees at night. 

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Thanks to atmospheric circulation and other factors, the mercury that we deposit into the environment tends to accumulate in the Arctic. That is bad news for shorebirds breeding in Alaska for mercury exposure can reduce birds' reproductive success and sometimes even be lethal. Shorebirds breeding in Alaska are being exposed to mercury at levels that could put their populations at risk, according to new research from The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

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Is the Endangered Species Act actually helping to save birds from extinction, or is that a myth? A recent analysis suggests that, in fact, the impact of the ESA on birds has been positive and significant. Simply put, there appears to be a strong correlation between bird population trends and formal ESA listing. Given the (often limited) resources dedicated to ESA and the protections it provides, the analysis gives evidence of the success of the Act.

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BP is still paying for the damage that it caused to the Gulf region with its massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. It will pay a further fine of $2.5 billion, bringing the total cost of the disaster to almost $62 billion. So far.

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Ravens are very smart birds and it should be no surprise that they learn from other ravens. Living together, they gain new information from group members. Once a group member starts displaying a new behavior, it frequently spreads to the rest of the group.

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Raven's cousin, the crow, is a very useful member of Nature's clean-up crew. Along with other scavengers, the omnivorous bird helps to keep the environment clean of potentially disease-causing elements.

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An article in The Atlantic explores why turtles evolved their shells. Hint: It wasn't for protection.

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After 300 years of surveys, almost 12,000 species of trees have been found in the Amazon region. Scientists believe there could be as many as 16,000.

8 comments:

  1. Brexit poses problems for wildlife too. It is largely EU rules and regulations which protect them at the moment. It remains to be seen what happens when those no longer apply.
    The Tufted Titmouse has to be one of my favourite US birds.

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    1. The titmouse is a favorite of many - wonderful little bird. There is a lot of uncertainty with Brexit, isn't there? One can only hope that the politicians come to their senses and do the right thing by people and the environment.

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  2. Well done. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. I appreciate that you do this every week. Some of the info comes across my screen from other sources but not nearly the amount that you unearth. Thank you.
    Some thoughts today:
    When I was learning birds in school, I just liked the name: Tufted Titmouse.
    Using cougars to bring down the white-tailed deer population reminds me of that Kingsolver book when the heroine was trying to get people to see that killing all the coyotes was upsetting the ecology.
    Are we like ravens? I think we are!

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    1. Are we like ravens? Absolutely! We often learn our behaviors by copying others.

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  4. I'm juggling two or three books at the moment. One of them is titled The Genius of Birds. I'm having fun with the way their brains work; they really are amazing creatures! :-)

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    1. That sounds like a very interesting book. Birds are truly fascinating and very complicated creatures.

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