Saturday, June 6, 2015

This week in birds - #160

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

Photo by Don Holland.

Pileated Woodpecker in flight. The Pileated is the largest North American woodpecker, assuming that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is, in fact, extinct. The Pileated is a crow-sized bird with a long neck and distinctive red "Woody Woodpecker" crest and the white wing patches that you can clearly see in this picture. It is uncommon but widespread over the continent wherever there are mature hardwood forests - primarily in the eastern half of the United States and throughout much of Canada. They are present in my neighborhood, but they are secretive birds and unless they are giving their loud, resonant call or performing their drumming they may go unnoticed.  

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It was announced this week that the White House grounds have gained a new protector. There is nothing secret about the service this protector provides. He does his work right out in the open for the whole world to see. The only ones less than happy with his work are the many squirrels that flourish on the White House grounds. The new protector is a young Red-tailed Hawk and he is enjoying those chubby squirrels for his meals. He should be one very well-fed hawk.  

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), keeper of all records regarding oceanic and atmospheric temperatures, has updated its information on global temperatures. As a new paper in Science Express describes this week, the updates show clearly that the so-called "pause" in global warming that had been trumpeted by many deniers did not, in fact, occur.

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Ninety percent of the world's population of the endanger saiga antelope lives in the country of Kazakhstan and, recently, half of that population, more than 120,000 animals, has died of a mysterious disease. Scientists are scrambling to try to figure out what is causing the crash and to stem this seemingly headlong rush toward extinction, but, so far, they have not been able to find the cause of the die-off.

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A study of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard indicates that it is much more important to the survival of the species to practice conservation in the wild rather than to resort to a captive breeding program. This seems like a no-brainer to me. I think it would probably be found to be true of any species. Captive breeding (such as was successfully practiced with the California Condor) is absolutely the last resort if nothing else has worked.

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Plastic pollution of the world's oceans has become a serious problem that threatens the wildlife there, as well as the overall health of the oceans. What is the best way to clean it up? There are plans afoot to harvest the floating debris from the waters, but a more effective method might be to clean up the world's beaches and interdict the tidal wave of plastics at its source. 

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Rare and isolated species of birds that live their lives off the beaten path can be hard to evaluate in regard to the health of the species because inadequate data exist. Avian ecologists are attempting to combine and correlate data from local point counts to see how these birds, such as those that live deep in the boreal forest, are faring. These data indicate that several of these boreal birds are declining.

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Peregrine Falcons have taken to the high-rise structures in cities like...um...ducks to water, to coin a phrase. Populations of the fast-fliers are flourishing in many cities around the world. More proof of this comes from New York where, recently, twelve Peregrine chicks that hatched in nests high atop bridges in the city were banded.

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Seven - count 'em, seven - new species of previously unknown highly miniaturized frogs have been identified in the cloud forests on several adjacent mountaintops in Brazil.

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The Buff-breasted Button-quail, one of Australia's rarest birds numbering probably less than 500 breeding pairs, is potentially threatened by a land-clearing project in Queensland. The project is under investigation by the federal environment department. Curiously, the button-quail is the only known Australian bird never to have been successfully photographed in the wild.

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How do African grasslands support millions of grazing animals, up to 25 different species of whom may be found feeding in a single area? The answer seems to be specialization. They feed on different plants or different parts of the plants and so are able to co-exist. 

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Driving on beaches is a significant danger to the wildlife there. This is never more true than during nesting season when eggs or vulnerable chicks can be destroyed by heedless drivers.

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We last saw the beaches of Santa Barbara covered in thick black oil. The emphasis now is on how that oil has been distributed by the ocean currents and what may be the long-term effects of the addition of this oil to the marine environment.

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Around the backyard:

Those busy Eastern Bluebirds are at it again. I noticed some straw poking out of this box a couple of days ago and went to investigate, expecting to see that they were building a new nest. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box to see three wide open beaks of babies expecting to be fed! All that rain over the last several weeks had not slowed these birds at all. It only interfered with my observation of them so I didn't realize that they were already nesting again.



6 comments:

  1. That's what I need then.. A red tailed hawk :)

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  2. Mmmm, seems I could do with one of those haws too! Mind you, I have moved to a new house, I have yet to see what how bad the squirrel population is here, but I suspect it is fairly the same as in my old house – sadly.

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    1. A Red-tailed or other buteo hawk could definitely help you with your squirrel problem, Helene.

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  3. How can a decent sized bird like the Pileated Woodpecker go unnoticed? That's a bird I would like to see often, particularly if it looks like the picture.

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    1. They are just very stealthy and stick close to the trunks of the trees where they feed, so unless they are making noise, they actually can easily escape notice. It's a survival skill. They are a successful woodpecker, unlike the unfortunate Ivory-billed.

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