Saturday, May 16, 2015

This week in birds - #157

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

White-winged Doves are flocking to my feeders these spring days. They are beautiful birds with voracious appetites and when there are 20 - 30 of them at the feeders, they can empty them in short order. They are now the dominant dove in my yard after first showing up here only nine years ago. Eurasian Collared-doves, which had been numerous before the advent of the White-wingeds, are now less seldom seen, as are my favorites, the Mourning Dove and Inca Dove.

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The avian flu epidemic is still sweeping the Midwest, resulting in poultry farmers having to cull many of their flocks. It is still not clear how the virus came to be spread to the domestic birds. Few wild birds have been found to have the virus, only some 60 so far throughout the West. The latest to be found with the virus was a Snowy Owl in Wisconsin. Conservationists and biologists are concerned because the flu does have the potential to be devastating to wild populations if it spreads. 

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A sharp spike in honeybee deaths over the last twelve months has brought that concern to the forefront once again. A recently released survey of 5,000 beekeepers shows a loss of 42.1 percent of their hives during the twelve month period ending in April.

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A group of scientists is attempting to reverse engineer birds in experiments with chicken embryos. They are attempting to reverse the evolutionary process and turn birds' beaks into dinosaur snouts, the point being, apparently, to gain a better understanding of just how evolution worked to create birds from dinosaurs.

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For many North American birds, Canada's boreal forest is home and sanctuary in the summer. Here is a list of seven species, including the endangered Whooping Crane, that would find it hard to survive without that forest.

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Many of those residents of the boreal forest irrupt in large numbers into the southern part of the continent during winter. Birds such as Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches. Scientists believe they can tie these erratic irruptions to shifts in the climate.

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The moonfish, or opah, is a silvery fish the size of an automobile tire that is found in oceans around the world. It is the first fish that has been discovered to be fully warm-blooded.

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The bloated dead bodies of dozens of diamondback terrapins, a species of turtle that can be found in coastal wetlands along the East Coast, have washed up on the shores of several beaches since April. It has not yet been determined what has caused the die-off.

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We think of Washington as a state where rains are pretty constant and dependable, and, indeed, the rains have been normal this year. What was not normal was the winter snow. The mountain snowpack is at 16 percent of normal and some streams are already drying to a trickle. As a result, Washington's governor has declared a drought emergency in the state

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House Sparrows are probably the least favorite bird of most birders in this country, simply because of all the problems they have caused for many of our beloved native birds. But it is hardly the bird's fault that it was kidnapped from its native lands and brought here to proliferate at the whim of some misguided humans. If one can manage to rid oneself of prejudices and look at the bird objectively, it has many interesting qualities. Above all, it is a survivor. "10,000 Birds" blogger has an appreciation of this most unappreciated bird.

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To the bitter disappointment of conservationists, the Obama Administration has given "conditional" approval to Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic Ocean. A major oil spill there would be devastating to that fragile environment.

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"The Rattling Crow" blogs about the cawing display of the Carrion Crow.

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Woodlands everywhere are important for soaking up the excess carbon dioxide and helping to protect the greater environment. This is true even of small or new forests. A few trees can do an almost inestimable amount of good to keep the balance of Nature.

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Many of the olive trees that have existed across the stony heel of Italy for centuries are dying, attacked by a bacterial outbreak called Xylella fastidiosa. It is an insidious disease that has also attacked citrus trees in Brazil and vineyards in California. This is a threat to the livelihood and, indeed, the way of life for Italian olive growers.

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Around the backyard:

After several days of incessant rain, I emerged from my lair today to find that, during my absence, a family of young cardinals had fledged and found their way to the backyard feeders. Two of them were feeding on the ground under the feeders as I watched. Immature cardinals are easy to distinguish from their parents, even though they are the same size, because of their dark beaks. This is not a very good picture, but I think you can tell that the bird has a dark gray beak. Adult cardinals have distinctive red beaks. This bird's beak will be red by late fall or winter. 

2 comments:

  1. Do you know what is the mode of contagion for the avian flu?

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    Replies
    1. No, apparently scientists are still unsure about that. The latest story that I read about the problem indicated that they are still studying it to find how it started and spread. As far as its spread, I'm sure the close quarters that these chickens and turkeys are kept in facilitates its spread.

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