Saturday, December 27, 2014

This week in birds - #139

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

A colorful male Mallard at rest on the calm waters of a pond. Mallards are among the many species of ducks that frequent our area in winter.

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Mistletoe is one of the iconic plants of the holiday season, greatly favored by lovers, but did you know that this parasitic plant also provides food, shelter, and nesting places for many animals in Nature, including birds? In fact, some critters could hardly survive without it.

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Scientists have been busily redrawing the avian family tree. The new schematic affords a much clearer picture of the interrelationship of many species and of how birds came to be who and what they are.

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Now that the governor of New York has banned fracking in his state, environmentalists in other states - like Pennsylvania, for example - are pressuring their state governments to do the same, as evidence mounts regarding some of the hazards of the procedure.

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Some people freak out at the idea of having wolves, bobcats, bears, and mountain lions around, but a new study in Europe shows that large carnivores and humans can coexist in an environment without negatively affecting each other.

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The California Spotted Owl is the only subspecies of the Northern Spotted Owl that is not protected under the Endangered Species Act, but environmentalists and conservationists are now calling for it to be added to the list of those protected. The owl is endangered by loss of habitat from logging and from wildfires.

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When fossilized footprints of dinosaurs are discovered, it generally creates headlines. Fossilized footprints of shorebirds - not so much. But such tiny ancient footprints exist, right there alongside their dinosaur cousins.

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If you have spent much time observing butterflies, you've probably noticed that many of them have a noticeable shine or sheen to their wings. How do they get that? Well, it turns out that it comes from an incredibly complex nanostructure of longitudinal ridges and crossribs

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"Clean coal" is not a real thing. It is a fantasy created by public relations marketers. There is NOTHING clean about coal or the way it is produced and utilized.

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Colombia is one of the richest areas on Earth for diversity of bird life. Thus, it is particularly troubling to learn that 122 species of birds in the country are endangered.

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The persistent drought in the southwestern United States is causing some birds, like the tiny Black-tailed Gnatcatcher and the Verdin, to nest later in the year. It is harder to provide for growing chicks and to maintain population numbers in the extremely dry environment.

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"Nature in the Ozarks" features a picture of a beautiful and unusual moth endemic to the eastern United States. It is the Green Marvel Moth. Its larvae feed on plants in the viburnum family.

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BirdTrends 2014 features information about trends in numbers, breeding success and survival of British birds.

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There is an unreasoning bias in some quarters against moths, but, in fact, they are very useful creatures in their habitats. Moreover, many of them are very beautiful. Only a very few species are destructive.

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Around the backyard:

Okay, I admit I am beginning to be worried. My yard is still essentially a cardinal-free zone. In past years, Northern Cardinals would disappear from the yard and my feeders for a few weeks in the fall, but by the end of December, they would return in strong numbers. Not this year. My Project FeederWatch weekly reports often do not have any cardinals. I only see one or two a few times a week. What has happened to the birds?  

Another thing. By now, I should be having several Pine Warblers at the feeders, but so far, I have not seen a single one! Now that's just weird.

It's true that we have had an unusually mild fall and winter so far, with no killing frost. Only a couple of times has the temperature flirted with freezing, so perhaps there is still plenty of food in the wild for these birds. But it is very disconcerting to look out at my feeders that are usually covered in birds at this time of year and see...nothing.

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